A few months ago Newcastle Poetry Festival commissioned me to write and record a poem in response to the Winged Victory'statue at Haymarket Metro Station. Known locally as the mucky angel, it is a war memorial I pass every day, striking in both grey skies or blazing sunshine.
The statue commemorates Northumbrian regiments lost during the second Boer War (1899-1902). This war was a fight between British Empire and the independence of South African farmers. It gave little to be proud of: the implementation of the world's first concentration camps where civilians died of starvation, as well as scorched earth policies. Imperial control propelled the war, the British hoping to claim ownership of the newly discovered Witwatersrand Gold Mines.
It is compelling to see this grand angel Victory stand with with one hand upon the hilt of her sword and the other offering a laurel wreath to the city. There is much more we could offer Africa following our so-called 'scramble'. At the base of the stone column, there is the bronze cast of Northumbriana, who extends a palm branch up toward Victory. Laurel garlands such as the one held by Victory were famously worn by ancient Greeks to symbolise triumph in both athletic competitions and war. 'Victory' is of course problematic and loaded with subjectivity. In Christian iconography, the palm branch that Northumbriana holds up at the bottom of the column represents martyrdom, a frond especially connected to sacrifice and salvation, the pilgrimage and procession of Palm Sunday and the victory of the spirit over flesh.
With these gestural offerings in mind, I also discovered that during the Boer war, an estimated 300,000 horses died in British Service and soon after, wrote 'Manes'. Those animals and people lost to scorched earth attacks are unnumbered as is the damage to the environment. At a glance, you might think the title of this poem refers to the manes of horses but manes is also a noun of Latin origin, which in Roman mythology describes the souls of the dead. The shades.
Along with sixteen other poems in response to locations, my poem is available on a new app available on Android and Apple phones and tablets. The app takes you on a journey around Newcastle via famous (and some lesser known) locations. It is free to download here: http://stepsintime.newcastlepoetryfestival.co.uk/