Poet Michael Shann on London, Borough Market and the joys of being an outsider
Michael Shann is a Walthamstow-based poet. Following the launch of his book, To London—a collection of poems about the hidden and not so hidden places that make London, London, including one on Borough Market—he’ll be at the pod in the Market Hall Monday 17th July, selling his book along with print illustrations from Kirsten Schmidt. Thirty-five per cent of the proceeds will be donated to the Borough Market Trader Support Fund.
Are you a full-time poet?
I don’t think anyone makes a living out of poetry—I work for the charity Carers UK as head of membership and volunteering, but I write some poetry every day, whether that’s tinkering with an existing poem or writing something new. I’ve been a member of the Walthamstow-based Forest Poets group for eight or nine years. We meet each month to critique each other’s work.
How familiar are you with the Market?
I’m very familiar with the Market. I get the Overground to Liverpool Street every day and walk to work every day—my office is in Southwark, just a short walk from the Market. I like to cut through the back alleys and walk over the bridge, via the Market to pick up my fruit for the day from Ted’s Veg.
What inspired your Borough Market poem?
As the poem itself says, I have a friend who works in Guy’s Hospital and every month of so we meet in the Market and go to one of the cafes for a coffee at lunchtime. The thing about the Market is, whether you’re buying things or not, it’s such a vibrant place to wander round—all those different images, smells, sounds. I tried to capture some of that in the poem.
Tell us a bit about the book
The book is made up of 40, eight-line poems—the Borough Market poem was originally much longer, but I cut it down to fit that format. A lot of it is just about the things I have discovered walking around London—some are about well-known parts of the city, others are lesser-known, quirky places. Hopefully it will encourage people to visit some of those places.
It’s published by Paekakariki Press in my local Walthamstow, by a small press that draws on the old letter press printing techniques, inspired party by William Morris, who was from the area. It also features 12 illustrations from local artist Kirsten Schmidt. She’s done some lovely drawings, including this one of Borough Market.
What drew you to London?
I love the layers of history, especially in Southwark and the Market area. You still see little signs of that—even in the Market itself. I think when the Market was refurbished, they did it quite sensitively, blending in the new while retaining the old.
I come from a small town in Yorkshire called Otley, and I’ve lived in London for 18 years. There’s still that slight feeling of being an outsider, which gives me the advantage of noticing things others may not. Every morning when I walk over London Bridge I still get that feeling of wow, this is great—I still feel very fortunate to live here. It’s inexhaustible; however long I live here, I still keep discovering special places.
Borough Market, by Michael Shann
I didn’t come by for a coffee or a pie
or the grumble of overhead carriages.
To weave through the waft of grilling beef,
paella, mulled wine and cheeses,
to take it all in and still to keep moving
past the gawp of a monkfish, through
the slow lunchtime crowds, just to meet you
at one on a bench in the cathedral garden.