Since 2016, our City Poets, appointed in partnership with Bristol Ideas, have helped to capture the spirit and soul of our city. They provide key insights into contemporary events and feelings, celebrating and challenging in equal measure. Our Poets’ words are a lens through which we can view ourselves and Bristol.
I was delighted to announce in July that Kat Lyons would be our new City Poet for 2022-24. Kat is a writer, performer, and workshop facilitator in spoken word poetry and performance storytelling. They use poetry to interrogate ideas, generate positive social change, and strengthen people’s connections to the world and each other. Their poetry has been featured in Under the Radar, Ink Sweat & Tears, and Bath Magg, and their debut poetry collection, Love Beneath the Nails, was published this year by Verve Poetry Press.
Last month, Kat shared their first official commission at Bristol’s Commission, performing ‘Welcome to the New Normal’ at my annual State of the City address. This inaugural poem heralds the return to ‘normal’ after the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a powerful and evocative poem showing Bristol’s communities still finding their feet and pushing the limits of what the city has to offer. Among the revival and celebration though, the poem highlights those who haven’t ‘bounced back’ – those suffering the physical and mental after-effects of the pandemic or who are struggling to stay afloat amid the national cost of living crisis. This telling of the fullness of our city’s story gives me every confidence that Kat will build on the strong foundations built by their predecessors: Caleb Parkin, Vanessa Kisuule, and Miles Chambers
Read and watch Kat’s poem below.
Welcome to the new normal
Bristol is dressed for business. Poses for tourists
with pastel paintwork, a flattering angle
the fixed grin of bunting.
We remember its bare face, sat with it
till shuttered streets gasped open.
Now we shoulder through rush-hours, hoard the gold
of our free-time, plant bare legs in every scrap of green
water the dirt with spilled laughter.
Here in the new normal we have been released and now
we’re going out-out
with bodies dissolving in heat-haze and soundclash,
with full-spectrum kinship of Queer teens and drag queens,
with Aunties and elders keeping Carnival simmering
and bringing it back a yard.
We press our hips to the bassline, fold
three years of fun into a six-month suitcase.
Summer bulges at the seams but
we will sit on the lid, we will break
the hinges to make it fit.
Here in the new normal we still clap on Tuesdays
or Thursdays or Saturdays or any day
a show ends now. Music plays
lights come up-
let’s have a round of applause!
We’ve ‘bounced back’. Listen to the sound
as we ricochet. Please ignore
the dents in the walls, the gaps in the crowds.
We are back in the office and our handshakes
are firm again. We are back in school, minnows learning
to shoal again.
And we are at home
and it was never just flu
and we never quite got over it.
We wear our isolation like a sodden overcoat
too heavy to unbutton on our own.
Here in the new normal we walk back from the shops past tents
mushrooming under bushes, on scrubland, in parks.
We try not to stare, wonder
whose aspirations lie covered by leafmould
at the slipperiness of the path
at how easy it is to fall.
And either we’re getting stronger
or the shopping bags are lighter every week.
Here in the new normal
we are up to our necks
and we have tightened our belts
and we have pulled ourselves together
and we have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.
We hold up our bowls and ask for more
than cliches. The electricity meter is hungry but so are the kids
and there are no calories in a media-friendly soundbite.
We put another jumper on, stuff fear
deep in our pockets. We have learned
we pivot faster than governments can spin. We turn
to our neighbours, turn ideas into actions
libraries into warm havens.
We gather in backrooms and pack bread and beans and nappies.
We gather in community gardens and grow
kale and courgettes
callaloo and choki
grip a donated spade and dig
a little clearing in dementia’s brambled ground.
We gather in Easton. Sit cross-legged in the street
the taste of prayer sweeter than fruit on our tongues.
Tablecloths bloom on the tarmac
as the sun sets again
as we give thanks again
as we pile strangers’ plates high again
as the dusk wraps a blanket around us all.
We tell our children bedtime stories
in more than 90 languages, sing
in a choir of almost half a million voices.
In this electric city, the static charge of life
touching life touching life
life illuminates our steps. We walk on through the new normal
in the knowledge that we rise and fall
on each other’s breath.