In 2018 more than 80 mayors and city network leaders from six continents gathered in Bristol to convene on the topics of migration, urban security and health, reflecting the pressing issues of the world. Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol City Poet, wrote the following poem to mark the occasion.

20180525 - FOI Vanessa Kisuule  Poet Marvin by @JonCraig_Photos

When the overwhelming tide

of things threatens to drown me,

sink pincers into my skin

hold these shoulders hostage,

I remember the small graces

from which all change takes subtle cues


For example: there is often a line in a poem,

A scatter of letters, the humblest image

that sets the forest of the mind alight.

This is what truly makes the poem sing

Not just a frivolous gathering of words

But a living thing demanding our hearts

to take on braver shapes


One line can pull the reader out

from the mouth of despair

Perhaps make the world

sit a little softer in its cradle

Suddenly we feel less alone

Part of a picture of clashing colour

A chaos that somehow finds unity at its core


Much like that one line in that one poem

There is often one person in one city

A figure of hope and steady purpose

Who must somehow weave the magic

of doing the best for the most

An intricate dance of balance and bargain

When pulled in fifty different directions,

You make an oath to all of us

A contract in concrete, sweat and ink


But there will always be

An endless web of voices

Sprawling out to no man’s land

Many leaders shout to be heard and heeded

Countless native tongues colliding

A constant clash of splintered Esperanto

We all know that feeling

Being stuck in a crowded room

Thinking we might disappear – our voices

Unacknowledged in a sea of noise

The fear that we will be the line

Carelessly cut from the poem


For the cities make up the countries

which make up the nations,

And our nations are sick and splitting,

Not just over one law or one war

But the sickening rush of uncertainty

The rumble of a changing world

Ripping fissures beneath us

Yet the more our shared problems bind us together,

The more we make borders of land and language

Sealing off our tongues

Reaching for the brute

Slang of violence


But surely,

great cities are built like beautiful verse

Each detail matters, every paving stone and playground

the regal churches and neglected alley ways

Every person that walks its streets

An essential part of the terror and beauty

That tussle for dominance under one kaleidoscopic sky

We have been starved of leaders

who listen to those on the ground

These are the humble streets you represent

The hoarse voices that trust you

with their myriad griefs and dreams


We are the lost sentences of this city’s story

Full and fair and unvarnished

Offer us up as a precious contribution

Not much by ourselves

But without us, the poem that speaks

Of this whole world could not be complete


Photo: Jon Craig

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