Poetry Book

Chimerical City: Poems of London

 John Light

Book cover

(33 pages, stapled, card cover).
ISBN 1 897968 37 X    £5  US$10; US$11 air

In his introduction the author wrote:

London has absorbed my birthplace and I spent almost all my working life in London. My speech was formed by London speech and my thoughts by London thought. Although I now live as far from London as it is possible to go without leaving England, its hold on my imagination is undiminished.
No one can truly describe London; no one could have imagined it. My imaginings are echos of thoughts evoked by impressions over many years of that incomparable metropolis.
I see these poems as inhabiting London and, like its human inhabitants, they are of varied age and disparate form. Perhaps some of them will speak to you.

Some poems from the book

Life's Riches

Summer's deep penetrating heat
Has emptied every square and street
From Stepney Green to Bow.

Behind the stone and brick facades
A secret people play charades,
Pretending life is rich.

While far above them through the sky
A silver aircraft flying high,
Screams "Life is for the rich".

Summoned by Betjeman

Morning train from Tring to Euston,
Underground to Stepney Green,
Climbing stairs to sunlit pavements
So unlike the Chilterns green.

Journey from the tree clad hillsides
To the city clothed in stone,
From the little lanes long winding
To the broad straight streets wind-blown.

Through the blue vault, slowly drifting,
Come white clouds from western shires.
Sunlight glints on broken bottles,
Sharper than the woodland briars.

I love hillsides green and graceful,
Where wild flowers skirt the roads;
Yet I write of darkest London,
Where humanity implodes.


Another coat
of creosote
seasons the fence;
hot sun draws scents,
pungent as tar
that graveled lanes
with shingle grains
when as a child
I wandered wild
through summer streets;
glass marbles flashed
and clicked and clashed
in gutters dry
where friends and I
chanced treasured bloods;
ants shiny black
from pavement crack,
my interest woke
in emmet folk
who tunnel deep:
- so long ago,
yet memories flow
like water clear
from mountain mere
in sunlit streams.

Of this collection, Bernard M Jackson wrote in Quantum Leap (Issue 49, 2010)


I speed to the city

along black tarmac roads

caught in a racing stream

of pilgrims city‑bound. 

(City Bound)


There can be but a few writers in the small press world to whom the name John Light is not familiar. For well over 20 years, he has single‑handedly compiled the now eponymous LIGHT'S LIST, an inventory of all known poetry magazines, country by country, world‑wide. He has also proved himself to be a poet of great distinction. Now living in Berwick, he ever retains a deeply rooted love and affinity for London, where he was born; and this fascinating collection revisits the great metropolis and probes and describes a London seldom observed by casual visitor, tourist and sight‑seer:


a collection of minutiae

conflation of discrepancies,

of imperceptible details,

size, shape, height, colour of buildings

differences of dress, movement,

features of the inhabitants,

of back street sounds and shop smells. 

(East End to South Bank)


In his poem London Dawn John deploys an economy of words to portray verbally the effect of breaking dawn across the city. Here is the veritable touch of the artist:


Below pewter clouds

yellow horizon

births an orange sun

that limns leaden cloud

with a scarlet base.

(London Dawn)


There is considerable movement in his poetry, too, as in several of his poems he describes journeys by car and the Underground - journeys vividly impressed upon his mind, and invariably recreated in dreamlike atmosphere. People, too, become ghostlike and restricted to those characteristic light and shadow portrayals to which, within the context of John's various poems, they duly belong:


On the Underground

no one speaks to anyone else:

in the dark depths of the metropolis

life is serious;

people read or think lonely thoughts,

thoughts not to be shared with other faces. 

(London Travellers)


Those of us who have had regular contact with London will find many familiar place‑names drawn upon within these absorbing pages. I particul­arly liked and appreciated J.L.'s lovely poem, Globe Town wherein there is superb depiction of an early morning market being stirred into action - and here again we have fine instance of the poet/artist's  keen eye for detail. But not all of this writer's admirable portrayals strike a positive note for the alluring charm of the innercity. In his poem, Above Ground we find a scene of abject desolation graphically described :


The District Line crawls from London's clay

to a desolation of despair;

lagoons of poisoned water lie dark

between spoiled heaps of slag and clinker

and black pipes carry hidden liquids

above multicoloured channels

to man‑made forests of stainless steel

and corrosive clouds cast dead shadows

where once marsh birds spread their wings. 

(Above Ground)


There are so many exquisite' poems in this collection that really, I could continue quoting each in turn. However, don't just take the word of a passing review writer - Why not see for yourselves ? If you love to read well‑written poetry, in the modern vein, imbued with clarity of perception and incisive imagery, then this is the book for you

Bernard M Jackson

For a rather different viewpoint see Steve Sneyd writing in Data Dump 142:

Chimerical City: Poems of London, by John Light is a 50+ poems collection, illustrated by the author, including an elegantly sinister cover, which sets out to capture, at levels of mood and mystery, JL’s birthplace and location of his working life before retirement to border town Berwick. Rather as with US poet Joseph Payne Brennan’s pictures of rural New England, or indeed P K Dick’s few non-SF novels with the air that the aliens have just stepped out for a tea break, there is little overtly genre here, yet an eye-corner feel of strangeness / the Other / the city as living entity with its own non-human agenda persists (another mood anthology from prosefic might be Leiber’s ‘Our Lady of Darkness’ for megalopolis as over critical mass life form-in-waiting): “iced fire” (“Artist’s Vision”), the “distant towers” rule “beyond the dereliction of half-hearted businesses” (“Maze of the City”), while “humanity implodes” (“Summoned by Betjeman”), helplessly fossilises - “statues of anglers” (“Urban Waterway”) or is manipulated into helpless captivity to pain-pleasure (“Monstrous Machine”) and above all what rules is the urban entity itself, “pixelled breast …/ curving sun-brown (--) sky-darkened needle (--) drawing the city to the stars”, its builders and denizens alike long outgrown, become interchangeable - “so many to choose from / so many to be” (“Mystery of the City”), disposables who will forever fail of admittance to the Meta-city, the “tall truncated pyramid (--) unsealed by any sort of door” (“Towards the Unentered Building”), ready and doubtless willing and able to exist past / beyond / without human presence, become in the last the pyramid monument of an Egypt-dead or Hodgson’s ‘Night Land’-dead civilisation in futurity.

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(Page amended 05 Sept 2017)

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