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Keeping John Betjeman company

St Pancras station gets a new poet laureate, and she’s 13 years old

Samantha Weinberg | October 9th 2015

The statue of Sir John Betjeman, coat billowing, holding onto his hat, stands seven-foot tall on the upper concourse of St Pancras International, the London train station he fought to save from demolition in the 1960s. Thousands of travellers walk past it every day, but yesterday, on National Poetry day, some of us tarried for a while.

The occasion was the presentation of the Betjeman Poetry Prize, an annual competition for 10- to 13-year-old poets. His daughter, Candida Lycett-Green, set up the prize in 2006, with the aim of encouraging and celebrating young poets from around the country. As her daughter Imogen, who now runs the prize, said yesterday: “That’s the age before people become self-conscious.”

The six finalists certainly showed no sign of disquiet as, one by one, battling the grumble of arriving Eurostar trains, they took to the podium to read their poems. The theme was “Place” and each poem was astounding—in its imagination, maturity and depth of emotion.

The judges were Lauren Child, best known for the “Charlie and Lola” picture books, and A.F. Harrold, creator of Fizzlebert Stump. Harrold, who bounded into the audience when the microphone failed, said that there had been upwards of 2,000 entries. “The poems we eventually settled on as winners offer a wide range of style, but all succeed in saying something fresh, freshly.”

He then announced this year's winner, 13-year-old Lucy Arnold-Forster from Henrietta Barnett School in north London. Harrold described her poem, “Home Is Where The Heart Is”, as both moving and an extraordinary technical accomplishment. Her mother, standing just in front of the bronze Betjeman, wiped her eyes, before repairing with everyone else to take toast and tea at the Betjeman Arms.

As well as receiving a bag of books and £1000, split with her school, Lucy will become the first poet laureate of St Pancras, charged with writing at least three poems about the station over the next year. Betjeman, one imagines, will enjoy the company.

 

Home Is Where the Heart Is

I never thought
My home would be a memory
An echo of a thought,
An imprint of
Some childhood experience.
I never thought
That vivid picture
Of the dirty vinyl floor,
The fluffy white rug,
The blue door,
Would fade away,
Replaced by some new house,
A house with blue carpets
And white doors.
I never thought
My home,
The postage-stamp garden,
The thick, smiling plants
And my plastic watering can,
Would become mere thoughts,
Floating in forgotten regions of my mind.
I never thought
The little house
With rusty hinges
And broken cupboards,
Would become a fantasy,
A lost dream of mine.
I never thought,
my love,
My heart’s dwelling,
The place I always longed to be,
The door I always passed into comfort,
The house I always felt at home,
I would never tread again.
Some say,
Moving house.
I say,
Leaving Home.

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