It’s all right-angles in the city over Newton’s lock.
Square foot, Square Mile. The joiner, mason, architect
have passed through, each one dangling a plumbline.
Build it once, then rake it back to ash and build again.
Down here the river measures twice, cuts once.
Bring spirit levels, bring your guillotines and gates,
you’ll not cut water
as it halves this place.
Meet it on its own terms, soft and true enough.
Between the builds, a greening, an uncornering.
The rivers make a curve of every angle; gentling a lattice,
licking sharpness from an edge. They gather leaves
and shake out clouds in tunnel mouths.
Welcome them. They change, and wait, and change.
Uncoil a path, a monument to those who go at walking pace
between the cathedrals of speed. A path means hope;
it links new places through an arc of sapling sycamores.
Invite the artist; the unjoiner, cutting out a halved house
on each bank. For Newton, keeper of the unlocked Lea,
you split the cottage like an apple. Water pulses through,
measuring the old familiar drop from hill to estuary.
Bent finger in a London of straight lines, the river
beckons to the city, points out the value of a curve
and floats on. Easy in its channels, unbiddable;
idle under mirrored bridges, waiting for the walls to fall.
By Jo Bell
Spirit level’ is Jo Bell’s specially commissioned response to Newton’s Cottage, at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. As part of a series of events this weekend celebrating the cottage, Jo will read this poem alongside more poems that about our waterways.
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