One of the advantages to working where I do is that (if I get the opportunity to leave my desk), the South Bank is on the doorstep for a short lunchtime stroll.
So, in a vague attempt at getting out from behind the desk for 15 minutes on Wednesday, I wandered along the river, taking in the grotty, humid weather; the sight of office workers far more conscientious than I out for their midday power-jog; and the fact that it seems there will soon be a branch of Wahaca in stumbling distance from my office (dangerous).
Somewhere between the book market and the Millennium Bridge, nestled amongst the hundreds of tourists with ice creams; the huge signs advertising films and theatre performances and exhibitions; and the rainbow sandpit was a shiny, silver trailer emblazoned with a sign that read “The Poetry Takeaway”.
Being the cynical type, and given the current fashion for street food, I assumed it was probably another overpriced lunch van with a quirky name and was ready to walk on by. But the lettering on the top of the van caught my eye, and I’m glad I didn’t scurry straight past.
Because the Poetry Takeaway is a takeaway van – for hactual poetry. Awesome, no?!
The idea is – like all the best ideas – a straightforward one: you queue up for a brief chat about your “order” with one of the three poets sitting in the van. They ask you a few questions – your name, and who the poem’s for, and whether you’d like your poem to be about anything specific. You wait (or wander off and have a cup of coffee) while they write it; you go back and they read it to you; and then hand over your very own bespoke poem.
When I got there, at about half past one, the queue was far too long to be able to wait for my poem and get back to the office without anyone conjuring the words “dereliction of duty,” so I headed back yesterday with a book, and staked my place in the sunshine.
The concept of an order of poetry clearly caught the imagination of others, as I had plenty of company in the queue: Italian tourists, an older American woman, and a rotund and perspiring businessman in a suit were all there too, waiting for their takeaway.
Eavesdropping on the people who were making their orders ahead of me, the requests were for poems about changes in direction, from ballet to business; apologies for forgetting someone’s birthday; and one for an ex-boyfriend, who’d never get to hear the poem.
Feeling uncharacteristically chirpy (I blame a rush of Vitamin D to the head), I asked my assigned poet, Peter Hayhoe, for something uplifting.
“Are you in need of uplifting?” He asked, scribbling away on his pad.
“No,” I said. “Life’s pretty good. Something to reflect the mood would be nice.”
A short chat followed; Peter made notes; and I headed back to the office.
I dived out later in the afternoon to pick up the finished work and hear Peter read it. Unfortunately, my total technological ineptitude means that the film I shot of his reading isn’t a film of his reading, but instead one second’s worth of my gushing about how brilliant it is. Fail.
But what I do have is an utterly brilliant, unique and handwritten poem, just for me. It’s awesome, and I love it, but it’s mine, so you don’t get to see it.
Instead, I recommend heading down – if you can – to the world’s first mobile poetry emporium, and getting one of your very own.
The Poetry Takeaway is on the South Bank (between the Millennium Bridge and the book market) until Sunday, 12noon - 5pm. All orders are free.