Bristol’s new City Poet: Welcome to the new normal

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.

Bristol's new City Poet, Kat Lyons, stands at a wooden lectern.

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.