Reimagining the City: a commission by Mona Arshi, Will Harris, Maryam Hessavi & Degna Stone

Earlier this year Poets & Players commissioned Mona Arshi, Maryam Hessavi, Will Harris and Degna Stone to write a poem based on the topic ‘Reimagining the City’. The poets were given free reign to interpret this in any way they wished. We are delighted to present the following four poems:

Mona Arshi

Gateway of India

‘…speaking of other cities, I have already lost it one by one.’ Calvino


It’s early, the traffic volume still low, Kismet Coaches are arriving as I pass the sweepers along the railings, the chai wallahs stacking their perspex cups, smoking their morning beedi’s and I pass the still sleeping bodies-a man using the foam of his flip-flops for a pillow, a few beggars rising from the smoke. Around the perimeter the snack shops are selling Joos, phone cards and triple-blade razors. I step aside to avoid the speedy-boys in their brown and cream uniforms, their wire trolleys straining under the weight of the packages. The ladies’ entrance is closed this morning so I join the one easy moving queue behind a woman wearing a death before decaf! T-shirt and after security, incongruously step on a little patch of carpet that welcomes me into the square.

Under the triumphant arch, a row of apertures are filled with pigeons standing like sentry guards, each  of their ragged backs against the  Arabian Sea-these most revolutionary of birds are as maddening here as in any other city. The birds own this place; the pigeons, and the gulls that swarm in batches not unlike starlings, over the turrets of the old basalt gate, the harbour water and around the hotel. The Taj has erected anti-roosting spikes, aviary netting and every conceivable device but these birds are insistent as the Indian sun which now disrobes itself from the clouds as the Mumbai morning comes fully into the square. The last battalion of British troops left this spot in 1948. Two decades later and less than a mile from here, my father set sail on an Italian ship.


Will Harris

Half Got Out

I was reading a poem by
Ben Jonson where a
newborn half got out sees
the city burning and
decides to crawl back
into its mother’s womb
thine urn  he calls it
it was Tuesday morning
I’d just seen Leo near
Leicester Square he
was reading a book by
W. S. Merwin a poet
himself newly returned
to his dead mother’s
womb  I was feeling so
anxious Leo said  kind of
low when I started to
read him it felt like I found
him at just the right time
I’m not sure but don’t
parents always talk of
their children arriving at
just the right time like
you might describe
finding your flip flops
just before a beach
holiday yes I said to Leo
he wrote that poem
didn’t he that sad dad
poem that starts

My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

I love the way the
dialogue loops back in
on itself the way you
know the poet is really
talking to or about
themselves it hurts to
read it it reminds me
I could be seeing my
parents right now who
live ten stops away  yes
half an hour but I’m
not and what else am I
not doing knowing
really knowing from
my top down to my
toes from whose bourne
they’ll not return  you
have to work though you
have to make a living don’t
you that may be true I
don’t know I left the
library in light rain to

meet Linda for a drink
at The Chandos and she
told me her granddad
used to go to Richmond
Park to fish he was a
wireless operating
sergeant during the war
it’s not like she cares it’s
just funny you know
even if she had a
Victoria Cross taped to
her forehead it wouldn’t
stop those dickheads at
the bar from asking if
she’s Latino or something
I fucking hate this city you
understand I say yes
I understand  but I don’t
know how to leave I say yes
I know I mean sorry
I don’t know I don’t
know how to leave or
where I’d even go

I looped back to enter
the tube at Leicester
Square stepping over the
body of a homeless man
to travel further again
from my mother’s
womb to Turnpike Lane
the word interred echoing
in my head how many
acres of earth were there
above me then the
whole city might have
been burning I could
already have been dead

there’s no going back my dad
said but how many times
have I crossed the point
of no return only to
crawl back down King
St or Goldhawk Rd
to eat chicken noodle
soup and talk about seat
cushions from Lidl  yes
I know they’re good value
thank you for dinner thank
you half got out and
half enwombed I know
that’s just the way it is I
understand the tube
threading me like a
complex stitch beneath
and through the city
back to the house we’ve
been sharing lately
when I got in I said I’m
home and you said  yes
I know and then you
filled the kettle and sat
down next to me and


Maryam Hessavi

red cities

I came to this planet earth
with cherries hanging on my ears

and I was not a girl.
I am also that girl.

I followed the path of the horse’s gallop,
by a setar that played without strings

and I was not a musician. I am
also that hand that plays. The man

dropped a coin for my sound.
I am that man. The glint rolled as sound

loaded a horn so loud it banged
and worth was fashioned  well. I am

a bursted eardrum. The ear felt
wind sigh past. Wind cuts across

the ear. That ear is me.
The ear is a house that rests

on water with stilts that wobble.
Those stilts are me. And that house

belongs to me. Mine in my name
and my body. The body is

me   where no maps are drawn.
The pencil belongs to me. I am

the belonger, and he is mine and me. Mine
is a home of cherry trees and they are

sharpened. I am the stone from one
eaten. That meal is me and I kneel

before the mouth that does.
Teeth are me. Gums.

The tongue is enough.
I am taste buds and they

flower an orchard every June.
I am June. My Mother is Joon.

Joon is a place over bitter seas.
I am that. I do not sail past  blue lines.

————————————       ————* Joon, meaning ‘dear’ in Farsi


Degna Stone

The city was killing us so we tore it down

When the old city fell, we were covered in scars
but the healing had not made us stronger,

it had only made us scared. We were on the edge
of a dark age and the city had been a place to hide.

Now that the old tech doesn’t work, we’re back
to our most basic selves. Almost animal,

forming connections to the landscape
we’d tried to concrete over.

We are rebuilding without blueprints,
using instinct to create spaces to flourish.

We’ve learned to live without the old statues.
Their plinths lie empty, public notices read:

This monument has been removed until
we can find a way to put it into context.

It’s coincidence that the typeface is crimson,
though it reminds us of the times we barely

escaped through streets glittered with blood.
The truth gets less painful each time we hear it.

We’re not changing the story, only the telling.
Weaving new fables to keep our children safe.

We’ve made a home in this new city, where before
there was only shelter. Found balance,

if not yet peace.


About Janet Rogerson

Janet Rogerson
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2 Responses to Reimagining the City: a commission by Mona Arshi, Will Harris, Maryam Hessavi & Degna Stone

  1. Chorlton Voice says:

    Interesting to hear the different takes on the city and other work from the poets. As always, a good afternoon at the Whitworth.


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