Poetry Commission by Dorothea Smartt
commissioned by Tideway, 2018
About the commission:
Poet Dorothea Smartt was commissioned to write poems for the ventilation columns at nine of the Thames Tideway Tunnel sites. These columns are all accessible for the public to walk close to. All of Smartt’s poems are thematically linked to London’s ‘Lost Rivers’.
The Lost Rivers are London’s natural drainage system and were used as the basis of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s original sewer network, meaning they are still the sewers of the capital. Fifty tributaries flow into the Thames, including twelve along the route of the Thames Tideway Tunnel.
Smartt’s poems all relate to their specific site and primarily focus on tales connected to people living or working near or on the Lost Rivers. To write the poems, Smartt undertook research at London libraries (such as the Southwark History Library and Archive, London Metropolitan Library and Wellcome Library), spoke with historical experts, and visited the Lost Rivers themselves, where she talked to people she met along the Rivers’ routes. The references in the poems span across the centuries and mix every-day stories with those that are historically better known. Smartt’s aim was to create poems that would reflect the diversity of London and would be intriguing and captivating, resonating with broad contemporary and future audiences.
The poems had to be very short (approximately 150 characters) so they could be easily read along the column. They will run up the side of the columns, fully integrated into the infrastructure of the Tunnel itself, with a design life of 120 years, making them a significant part of Tideway’s cultural legacy for London. The text will be in a bespoke adaptation of the salvaged Doves font, which has an interesting history of its own, connected to the Thames. Doves font is being used at a number of Tideway sites as part of other commissions.
Smartt says, “I hope to add a human and experiential dimension with some of my poems for the ventilation columns. I’ve explored ways of drawing threads across social history, through the lives of people, events, or significant buildings … reflecting and honouring well-known facts and features, as well as the lesser-known, marginalised or hidden past. I'm thrilled and delighted to have been chosen for such an important commission for London.”