Grays Spoken Word Map

In February 2019, I was commissioned to write a ‘Spoken Word Map’ of Grays by Artem et Populis as a part of the ECDP/ACE-funded Grays+Me project. Grays is the main town in the borough I’ve lived in my whole life. I’ve spent a lot of time working and socialising in the area, and this project gave me the opportunity to consider all the different things and places I know about in the area. Here’s the poem!

Grays

Welcome Welcome, Welcome!
To the middle of nowhere
The gritty urban centre surrounded by countryside
In the shadows of the big city
We’re The last stop on the oyster zone
Things change at a different pace here –
We’ve been soaking in formaldehyde.
Most won’t come by
Recently we’ve seen crime sprees
Along county lines
And truth be told, it ain’t always nice: see,
In 2011 the Guardian said it
This place is the most depressing
Settlement in Essex – and then the rest of it.

But don’t be too quick to judge, son
Settle down now and listen
This place is one of great talents and vision
There are those who wish to see this negative image
Transposed and changed like alchemy
If you’re doubting me just hear me out
There’s lots of good to flout, you see
From the Thameside to the Lightship
Up to Blackshots and St. Georges
We’re forging hope by working hard
And backing some good causes.

There’s artists and activities
Community projects once were lacking,
A Creative Blast of magic
And we feel the people’s backing.
If you Love Grays
Then many times a year
You’ll have been down to the high street
And seen some music, painting dancing,
Free of charge, yeah it’s good vibes here

Grays Beach on a sunny day is quite a sight to see
Kid’s playing, sea’s spraying, and ice cream
But like a nice dream
It’s often interrupted by the sirens screech
Luckily they’re covered by the music of laughter
Let those embroiled in crime enjoy their time –
Us? We’re after something calmer.

A few Hidden Gems all dotted round
Community House to the good views of the south
From the north bank of the Thames
Get up to the 7th floor of Thameside
Say Hi to TLS
Look west
And you can see the city spread
To the east is where most people here
Feel their identity lays
I’m talking from the rest of Essex to Nepal
Adventures taking more than days

At the Traitor’s Gate there’s no traitors, mate
Just selections of musicians
Tony and Ben and all of their friends
Do their best to relieve the schisms.

Elsewhere we’ve got the Beehive
The CVS striving to see life
Improved by providing real time
Opportunities for the populous
To pop up and give free time
To projects and to people
Who maybe need a helping hand.
Learn skills and socialise
The adult college giving knowledge
And the promise of better futures
Teaching everything from yoga
To how to use a computer

This town has a proud past
Stretching deep into the Middle Ages
Henry de Grey gave it its name
A Norman baron who’s great-great grandparents sailed
With William the Conqueror.
Henry was a favourite
Of the forever hated King John the monstrous.

Grays was part of the path
Of those peasants
who chose to march
Far to London to teach a lesson
to King Richard the Second
Led by Wat Tyler
Now on the border of our borough
His name is immortalised

Nowadays the town
Is branded by recurrent reference
To Russell Brand
Like they’re forgetting
The other Russel –
That’s Alfred Russel Wallace
He uncovered the theory
of how different Species are all related
At the same time as Charles Darwin
But his name hasn’t achieved the same status
Or echoed through the ages

The good and bad, the wins and losses
All meet in Grays with silent nodding
A vibrant metropolis
Inhabited by people who hail from Mile End
To the Tropics
Today’s topic is one of hope and solace
Tempered by real logic
That the heart of Grays has been throbbing
A mean song of defeat but within it is a glint
Of the unknown promise
In the land which chokes on the smoke of motorways
We can poke a stitch into our broken ways
And live our lives out in a more hopeful way

(c) Steve Lawes 2019