It occurs to me that I may never have put the (lengthy) poem ‘A different kind of urban’ on my blog here. You may remember it formed the lyrics for the choral piece of the same name, for which Liz Lane wrote the music, which was commissioned from us by the Open University Choir to celebrate Milton Keynes @ 50 (there having been planning of the town going on in 1967, if no actual building). So here it is.
A different kind of urban
1: What do we celebrate?
We celebrate a different kind of urban,
something half a century old now, yet still brand new;
which embraces its past and its deeper past,
always changing, always growing –
still in a state of flux and roil, as it has always been.
Still excited, still exciting; fresh and hopeful for the future.
Everything begins with imagination …
2: Up in the air
Imagine: you are a bird flying home
from the south, as the day begins to go
and there beneath you, the whole of the town
lies like a complicated plaid below.
Behind the town, the remnants of the day
clamour a fanfare of glorious colour –
orange, red, purple – in the western sky.
Ephemeral. A burst of energy.
You think the show is over now, as twilight
deepens – ah, but wait! The orange streetlights
of our town begin to echo nature,
challenging the glory of the sunset.
First, the margins of the main roads come alight,
then the town’s estates begin to twinkle.
So many! As the twilight deepens on
they come, and on, like an ostinato
starting with a single voice, which grows
until the whole choir joins in song.
Through the pattern of lit streets, other lights are threading now;
sinuous as prayers floating on a holy river.
The white lights flow towards us and the red lights flow away.
And for a magic moment we cannot process what we see,
until we, too, start for home, when it at once comes clear
what these streams are. They do not float on any holy river;
they grind and growl and rumble upon asphalt roads,
for they are simply cars, cars, cars, and yet more cars –
and you and we and they are going home.
3: Down on the ground
Our history is woven through the earth we stand on
enriching our lives and the lives which came before.
Beneath our feet lie its warp and weft, a pattern
of primeval ley lines, alignments of constellations
and drovers’ roads, channeling ancient powers.
Canals, those engineering marvels, cut through
the land remorselessly. Beside them run the railways
triumphs of shaped steel, superceding them,
and superceded in their turn by tarmacked roads.
We live at a crossroads of Albion –
everything meets here: road, rail and water,
travelling north and south, east and west.
We are pinned in our place by the arrow
of Watling Street, the London Road, the A5,
thrumming to the spinning of a million wheels.
Up it, roaring mad, Boudicca came.
Where else would a grieving Edward stay
but here with us, the night he brought the
body of his dear Queen Eleanor
to London. Her crosses bear witness.
Crookback Dick kidnapped his nephews here
when he through trickery acquired the crown
he could not keep long, at last in his turn
hast’ning up Watling Street to Bosworth Field.
From all points of the compass dons and
crossworders came to crack Nazi codes
in World War Two. (Ten thousand people
working there – and no-one ever knew.)
Be assured, citizens of this new place,
we are no backwater of history here.
4: In the heart
This is the last and greatest of the new towns.
Architects, those techno-mages, drew up their plans
the very year of the summer of love,
when there were still loon pants, and long hair,
and money and vision. They made the town
out of straight lines and circles and low rise homes,
gave it good green lungs to help us breathe;
trees to scrub the air clean; open space,
where we may feel the grass beneath our feet,
As the town rose up out of the mud,
Baby Boomers arrived here in droves.
A unique generation of optimistic children,
rosy with free education and the welfare state,
we said, “let’s put the show on right here!” And we did.
In the middle of nowhere, we put on the shows,
the displays, the gigs and the festivals.
And we still do.
Those funky architects of ’67 knew
there is a little druid in us all
(it never truly leaves the human soul)
so built a boulevard to celebrate
the sunrise at midsummer.
So we whose town this is,
of every faith, or none,
know that there
at the city centre Belvedere,
as an affirmation
the sun will rise
as a ball of fire,
on the longest day of the year.
And again in November
we gather there together,
to mark the return of winter
on Guy Fawkes Night with fire.
As the fireworks burst above us
we stand silently in wonder,
shoulder to shoulder
in the dark.
At those times we realise
the town’s soul is older
even than the Druids
and not new at all.
5: An ending, but not the end
In this new place to live
we look for a new way to live
and cherish our diversity.
The deep past of our town,
and its continuing modernity
inform our lives from day to day.
What will our town’s next great story be?
Judi Moore © 2017