Verse-atile poets for hire on the Thames


Huw Poraj-Wilczynski explores London through the typewriters of the Thames’ poets.

In front of Shakespeare’s Globe, overlooking the River Thames, poets Luke Davis and Edmund Davie sit behind their portable typewriters waiting to write.

With paper loaded and cloth ribbons inked, their type hammers are ready to spring into life as soon as a passer-by requests a poem.

“It’s kind of like cold reading. You have to guess what the person wants from the poem,” says Davis. “It’s not about showing how clever you are.”

“We get a lot of requests for poems about anniversaries, graduation, the Thames and walking on the bridge. They can be tricky but we try our best.”

“I don’t know why people want poems,” says Davie, author of 100 Haikus about Penetration, a meditation on nature, the city and Alan Yentob’s pyjamas. “It could just be the typewriters or the novelty of poetry but it gives a new perspective of London and a different way to remember it.”

With this in mind, Unreported London commissioned Davie and Davis to each write a poem about the capital’s hidden rhythms.

Unreported London

By Edmund Davie

our proud city has a mirror image

no one talks about the usual channels

you’ll never read in the evening standard

tales of the backstreet

you won’t see what happened last night

at wetherspoon’s

on the evening news

no one tweets about angels being sacrificed

in city dungeons

no one could because no one knows

the half of it

¼ of the crimes

1% of the weirdness

.1% of the madness

.01% of what the people really think about all day.


Invisible London

by Luke Davis

It was Iain Sinclair’s fault. Before

He gave the game away, no one cared.

You could have the canals, the Lea,

The Bow Backs, all to yourself.

You and perhaps a fisherman

Smoking a bit of rocky, and sipping

from a warm can of Kestrel.

An industry sprouted in the wake

Of Lights Out and London Orbital

Now it has its own section in Water-

Stones. Lost London, Lost Rivers,

London Under London, 100 glossy

Paperback, spilling the same secrets

Here’s Postman’s Park, Here’s the John

Soanes museum by candlelight

Here’s the river Fleet and the Ravens-

Bourne. So what then, the truly

invisible? The actual mystery religion

its temples and altars?

If I knew I wouldn’t tell you, cos

Joggers would trample it

And people would walk dogs across it.

The boys in fashionwear in Wembley

Clutching carrier bags of khat

and we’d all have to give up the whole

game, and move to Lisbon

with everybody else.

Featured photo by Huw Poraj-Wilczynski