Essays

Memories. Some lie dormant for decades then suddenly spring awake, fresh as yesterday. I like to think the writer in me brought Kissuni back to life but it was something else. To me, a mere girl of seven, my grandparents’ maid was a big-boned, strapping woman, always barefoot, always moving. Her feet were cracked clay, her face a rock. With mandatory bows, she led a back-breaking life of cooking, cleaning, ironing and, like it or not, looking after me that summer. If I was thirsty, she brought me cool barley tea. If I needed to use the toilet, she carried...

Ahead of the launch of Sudeep Sen's Fractals, read a few words on Sudeep Sen's new collection by poet Fiona Sampson.   Sudeep Sen is a truly international poet.  In the era of globalisation, he has responded to the challenges of the connected world with a unique poetic synthesis. No other poet writing in English today manages to balance the steely North American tradition with the lyric sincerity to be found in much of the rest of the world, from the subcontinent to Europe and beyond. Sen responds uniquely to the artistic opportunities that have been opened up by the new...

I will always remember my first visit to Glyndebourne. It was a Sunday and I was the countertenor in Westminster Cathedral choir, so I must have somehow managed to get off singing vespers and benediction that day - the second after Pentecost (only three copes, but no doubt a fair waft of incense and quite a lot of camping around). I see from my diary that I picked up Michael Reynolds, assistant editor of Music and Musicians magazine who was giving me his second ticket, at his basement flat near Olympia at 2pm. The deal was I’d drive him...

The one hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising will hardly register in most London Magazine readers’ minds, but for Irish people the anniversary prompts reflection on who we are. It occurred in the context of World War I where esprit de corp was merging the Irish experience with that of other ‘imagined communities’ in the British Isles, a term for the archipelago that makes many Irish people squirm. Without the Rising, ‘Irishness’ might have become a scarf worn only on match days. A form of Home Rule would in all likelihood have been granted as an enabling Bill had...

Home is a box on Coppermill Lane, caught in the crosshairs of Walthamstow High Street and Blackhorse Road. It’s a one-bed flat on two floors, too small to live alone in. Two people generate less clutter than one: with someone else about, we have a reason to live neatly. We supervise each other. My current supervisor is Henry, a playwright tending bar at a small fringe theatre. He’s been there a week. On his first shift, the manager slapped him energetically on the rump before announcing, in a tone of reverential awe, “He’s so slim! Look at his slim hips!” The...

Many academic phrases, like much academic writing, are too awkward, verbose and cumbersome to find their way into common usage. Indeed, the jargon of archaeology often leaves me, a retired but still active archaeologist, speechless with frustration. But once in a blue moon, terms coined in the Ivory Towers do manage to filter into informed general writing, if not into pub lunchtime banter. And ‘ritual landscape’ is one of these. It’s something that makes people frown and look interested, in the hope that somebody might explain. Anyhow, that’s my intention now. So sit up and pay attention! Please. The period...

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of T. S. Eliot's death, the great and the good of the literary world have rolled out tributes, readings, books and exhibitions. As a compliment to all this reverence, we asked Lauren Hepburn, young playwright and lifelong Londoner, why Eliot's works - long-since absorbed into the unimpeachable canon of Great Literature - still hold so much vitality and inspiration for her.  It’s been fifty years since Thomas Stearns Eliot passed away. How do we remember him? As the founding father of modern poetry; as the author of the The Waste Land; for his articulation of a cold and...

This year London houses a major retrospective of the work of Barbara Hepworth alongside her friend and contemporary Henry Moore at Tate Britain. The exhibition, entitled Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World promises to emphasise Hepworth’s status as a leading figure in the art world of the 1930s 40s and 50s and readdress the manner in which her work has often been overlooked with regard to her male contemporaries. A pioneer of modernism, whose sculptures can be found around the world, be it in Venice, New York or the humble coastal town of St. Ives, she produced over...

So there’s a glamour model contest. All women can enter. To decide on a winner, the women must strip, pose sexually and suggestively on a bed. The men (and some women) in the audience show their preference in women by cheering or booing. A male DJ decides which woman has received the biggest cheers. Surprisingly, this scene comes from in a club named ‘Mayhem’ in Southend-on-Sea in the spring of 2007. This is how Natasha Walter starts ‘Babes’, the first chapter in her gripping, well-written exploration of how women are affected by a new wave of sexism – riddled with pornography,...

Tucked away on the wall of 128 Kensington Church Street is a blue plaque marking the one-time home of Muzio Clementi. Composer, conductor, keyboard virtuoso, music publisher, piano maker, he was once one of London’s brightest musical stars. Clementi was born in Rome in 1752, where a visiting English milord, Sir Peter Beckford, spotted his exceptional talents, playing the harpsichord and organ, and brought him back to his country estate in Dorset. There he continued his studies and was shown off as a musical prodigy. Released from these duties aged 21, Muzio did not return to Rome but headed straight...

Chris Moss traces the literary journey of the commuter and celebrates his arrival as a 21st century Everyman “Man is born free, and is everywhere in trains,” wrote Roger Green in his 1984 book Notes from Overground. Green, who used the pen name Tiresias (the blind prophet) for his rambling, ranting, insightful collection of carriage-seat-observations, was asking his fellow commuters on the Oxford-Paddington trains to stand up and be counted. After all, he wrote, the commuter is “l’homme moyen de notre époque. The anti-hero of our age. More than the soldier, the nuclear physicist, the political prisoner or the starving child,...

At this year's Battle of Ideas the opening debate concerning literature was entitled To Read or Not To Read - The Canon and the 21st Century. Basically, is there a need for a literary canon in the 21st century? And if there is, should it be full of dead white European men, as Tim Black, deputy editor at Spiked summarized it. Of course many shades of sexism, cultural imperialism and overt discrimination exist in the canon, if we take it to mean the Harold Bloom’s 26 authors including Shakespeare, Dickens, Dante and Chaucher. But within the canon, there is also...

If for some reason you ever find yourself playing 'Tube Bingo' there a few things that you are guaranteed to be able to cross off. Non functioning escalators. Officious officials. Discarded debris revealing which brand was offering samples this morning. And poems. Proper poetry, not graffitti (that's a discussion for another time). It's a welcome and recognisable mainstay of the underground system. Launched in 1986 by Judith Chernaik, the scheme has grown in size, and today Poems are displayed on posters in 3,000 advertising spaces in train carriages across London, selected by Chernaik, together with poets Cicely Herbert and...

Charting the evolution of Easter Island wooden carvings from spiritual receptacle to auction treasure. Allow me to take you on a small journey to Easter Island.  It is known to many but only through a veil of mystery and romanticism. Lying 3000 km from mainland, a good five to six hour plane journey from Chile. It is the furthest East of the 287 islands that make up Polynesia. Its native name is Rapa Nui and it is one of the most isolated places on earth. There is some debate as to how the island was settled, but it is generally agreed...

London has a disproportionate number of writers compared to the rest of the nation. Or so we are told. Why is this? Is it the wonderful artistic opportunities afforded by this great capital of money, people and culture? Or is it the fact that there are more opportunities here to supplement their meagre royalty cheques with alternate interesting work? Quite often writers are here teaching, and teaching those who aspire to join their ranks, or wish at least to spend some time visiting. As a consequence London is a great place to learn the art of writing from those...