Capturing the Soul of the City

Vanessa Kisuule HeadshotToday’s guest blog comes from Bristol City Poet, Vanessa Kisuule.

Being Bristol City Poet has been a unique and unanticipated journey – one that doesn’t have a clear blueprint. I have had many ideas as to what being City Poet means and how I want to represent Bristol – many of these ideas have grown, evolved or even changed I am learning more about this interesting city and its inhabitants than I ever did as a citizen because I seek out the people I don’t normally encounter and the streets I don’t usually walk down. I try to let this city and its myriad populace guide me and show me the poetry it harbours. The results have been various, weird and wonderful.

I regularly post pictures of interesting things I spot around Bristol accompanied by short poems on my Twitter. It forces me to be more attentive to my surroundings and I have developed a new appreciation for things that would never otherwise catch my eye. The witty scrawls of graffiti on waste bins, the bittersweet image of a former independent grocers store gutted and empty on St Michael’s Hill, and the scenes of people sat enjoying this year’s unlikely heatwave provided me with plenty of inspiration. I hope this encourages other people to appreciate the small beauty and poignancy in everyday life – we often make the mistake of thinking moments or landscapes must be grand to be remarkable, but the small things, that are all too easy to miss, consistently tell the most compelling stories.

I have put a call out on the Festival of Ideas website. There’s an eclectic mix of requests which expose me to the quirks of Bristol’s history – I am currently finishing a poem about the swimming baths at Jacob Wells. People have also been sending their own poems for me to read and I select the best ones to publish on the Festival of Ideas website. I’m glad that so many people have shared their own words – I am as interested in inspiring others to write poems as I am in writing my own.

I’ve tried to get as varied a perception of Bristol as possible through all manner of random situations: I’ve attended poetry readings for the elderly at Henbury Library, got into passionate arguments about gentrification with the owner of a Middle Eastern restaurant (Baba Ganoush on St Nicholas Road – best falafel in Bristol, hands down). I’ve had coffee with the organisers of St Paul’s Carnival to learn about its history and their hopes for its future. I’ve even joined a local drawing group – their members are a refreshing mix of old and young, professional and amateur, able-bodied and differently-abled. Even Big Jeff is in their ranks!

To feel part of Bristol is to know your neighbours, to wander through the streets and feel both a sense of familiarity and infinite discovery. It’s the wonder of always encountering new people but also knowing the name of the barmaid at your local. Two years initially seemed like a long stretch of time, but I now see that there is so much to capture – even a whole lifetime could not cover all there is to say about this city. I will do all I can in the precious two years I’ve been gifted and will carry all the stories Bristol has offered me for the rest of my days.

If you are passionate about Bristol and have poetry you’d like to share, poetry you’d like to request or you’d like to book me for a potential workshop or commission, do get in contact at this email address: zoe.steadmanmilne@businesswest.co.uk. I cannot do this role without the contribution of all the people that live here and love this city. Thanks for reading, and if you see me out and about don’t be afraid to say hi!

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