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"Centenary Verse for the Suburb"

                                            - an interview with Peter Phillips


by Bridget Galton, 7th June 2007

reproduced by kind permission of Hampstead & Highgate Express



Peter Phillips photo


Poet Peter Phillips (pictured) was musing on a plan to write about Hampstead Garden Suburb in spring when he had a phone call from the residents' association chairman.


David Lewis was asking him to pen a poem to mark the suburb's centenary this year.


"I had on my desk a collection by Arthur Jacobs including the poem NW2 in Spring—so there was serendipity about me reading the poem at the same time as that phone call."


Phillips, a suburb resident of 35 years, who lives in Asmuns Hill, had always planned to write about spring flowers and saw a way to connect suburb founder Henrietta Barnett's religious faith, faith in the building project, and faith in horticulture.


"I saw a way to make a metaphor for Henrietta Barnett's faith through flowers via an imaginary conversation with her husband Samuel," says Phillips, who has been writing poetry for more than a decade and has published three collections.


He was delighted to be asked to celebrate the area he feels connected to.


"The word that keeps popping into everyone's vocabulary about the Suburb is community.  If you live here for a few years, you can't help but feel part of it and get involved."


Faith in Flowers

What did you say, dear?

One hundred years, Henrietta.

Wouldn't you like to be there?

I can't think that far,

with so much to do tomorrow.

Yes, yes, I know Mr Parker and Mr Unwin

will be dead—and so will we.


Did I tell you—please listen Samuel

and do remember to rest—

I asked them what flowers they enjoyed?

Mr Unwin said daffodils and Mr Parker crocuses.

I said I hoped to plant

some bulbs in our Central Square


and would try to ensure

they'd be set out

in beautiful order and symmetry,

just like their houses.  Then I saw

them glance at each other and smile.

Could I have made them smile, dear husband?


But wouldn't you like to be there

see all your fruit trees?

No.  It's one thing to have a life's duty

quite another going back when one's dead...

the world does so hurry along,

and I couldn't endure that.


But I know our architects' flowers will flourish—

crocuses, gossiping like schoolgirls,

daffodils caring for them—

all that colour

as our churches hum to the hymn of Easter.

Do you think Mr Parker and Mr Unwin

would be pleased with that?


                                         Peter Phillips



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