Canal Laureate, Luke Kennard has been commissioned by Canal & River Trust to write a poem promoting good manners on the towpath. Using special biodegradable paint, the first verse of Luke’s poem has been stencilled onto towpath locations across the country.
How we behave and how we treat one another have always been central concerns of my work, which I guess could be described as a kind of Absurdist comedy of manners. The only way I felt comfortable instructing anyone on how to conduct themselves was if I presupposed that it went without saying and introduced a second voice to criticise the narrator of the poem for trying to instruct them. I wanted to capture the idea that as a pedestrian you maybe go to the towpaths to escape the usual rule-bound streets, so the infiltration of a guide to etiquette might be pretty unwelcome. And that, nonetheless, basic courtesy will keep the space a unique, inspiring and happy place to be. I should add that on my peregrinations so far I have not once been knocked into the canal by a cyclist, yelled at by a fisherman or received anything other than a cheery wave from a boater. But I once walked past someone wearing sunglasses on an overcast day and I found him a little intimidating.
ETIQUETTE AT THE CANALSIDE
New traveller of the shining towpath,
Please be mindful as you roam.
It’s not that you can’t speak, eat, laugh,
But this is everybody’s home.
Let others too enjoy its use,
Be like the duck and not the goose.
Do not preach to the converted
Or assume we’re unaware
That dropping litter’s as perverted
As ignoring others’ cares.
Keep your homilies to yourself,
Leave your manuals on the shelf.
Sorry; it wasn’t my intention
To nag, cajole, instruct or bore,
Just eager that your intervention
Keeps the peace you came here for.
Adopt an attitude, at most,
Of simultaneous guest and host.
Just the kind of regulation
We came here to avoid:
A pelican’s regurgitation.
We sought escape, now we’re annoyed.
“Poetry makes nothing happen”:
A good reason to shut your trap, then.
A pelican sustains through vomit
All his or her offspring, so
Actually, your analogy, I hold it
A great compliment, and lo:
Even as it breaks the rhyme scheme
I grant myself the final word.
Look out for Luke’s poem in canal locations including:
Birmingham (Brindley Place)
London (City Road Lock, Islington)
London (Kingsland Rd Basin, Hackney)
Marsden (Standedge Visitor Centre)
It’s painted in temporary paint, so catch it while you can.