Roger McGough takes Liverpool's city beat

Roger McGough marks Liverpool becoming European Capital of Culture with a new acrostic. 'The Independent' asks other poets to follow suit
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Roger McGough, one of the original Mersey Beat poets, has written a new poem, a lively nine-line acrostic, about his home town to mark Liverpool becoming European Capital of Culture 2008.

Roger McGough, one of the original Mersey Beat poets, has written a new poem, a lively nine-line acrostic, about his home town to mark Liverpool becoming European Capital of Culture 2008.

And, inspired by McGough's creativity, The Independent has commissioned five other poets from around the country to celebrate the city or town in which they live or were brought up. The poets present a diverse take on life on our major cities and also provide eccentric observations about towns often overlooked artistically.

Liverpool has formed a backdrop to many of McGough's collections of poetry, but he found addressing the city as a subject a more difficult task.

"It was tough," he said. "When I was asked to write a poem about a fountain recently, that led me to think about water. But this was slightly harder. I had to think what it was for. So I thought, an acrostic appealed to me, ending with a double acrostic. It was a fun way of doing it."

He wrote the poem during a recent family break in Reigate, Surrey. It bursts into life with the lines, "Lippy loose-limbed liberatingly lyrical; Irreverent inspired je ne sais quoi; Vibrant Visionary with a capital v; Edgy eccentric essentially europhile."

"Because it's the European city of culture, if Liverpool is not europhile already it should be," McGough said. "At one time Liverpool looked out to the United States, but once the docks closed down, I think there was an acceptance of Europe."

McGough was commissioned to write the poem by channel Five as part of its Five Arts Cities programme. Liverpool is the inaugural city in the project, which is being run in partnership with the Arts Council England. Kim Peat, Five's controller of arts, said: "I'm delighted Roger McGough has created this poem for us, which encapsulates brilliantly, and imaginatively, the elements that go to make up the city of Liverpool."

In Liverpool: A Lyrical City, to be shown on Five in September, McGough and Brian Patten, another Mersey bard, will take viewers on a poetic tour of the city. They will each choose five locations that typify Liverpool's artistic, social and cultural heritage to read some of their works, including the Albert Dock and the Royal Liver Building.

The poet hopes his simple poem will appeal to children and inspire them to write their own acrostics. "I could imagine teachers saying: 'Here's McGough's poem. We can do better than this, can't we?'"

Ciar Byrne

Liverpool by Roger McGough

Roger McGough, 66, was born in Liverpool and has become synonymous with poetry from the city.

He was cautious about summing up the characteristics of Liverpool in the poem and was anxious that it accurately reflected a recognisable reality to its residents. He said: "You're very conscious of people in Liverpool reading it. You've got to please them. They wouldn't appreciate anything that's not true to life. But you also have to please people outside of Liverpool." McGough, who left Liverpool when he was in his forties, and now lives in London, said the city is full of memories for him. "Almost every street has ghosts," he said.

Lippy loose-limbed liberatingly lyrica l
Irreverent inspired je ne sais quo i
Vibrant Visionary with a capital V
Edgy eccentric essentially europhil e
Racy restless raw rock 'n' rolle r
Pacy passionate positively po p
Obsessive optimistic on the g o
Off the wall outlandish ee aye addi o
Legendary life-giving life-loving Liverpoo l

Luton by John Hegley

John Hegley, 50, spent his childhood in Luton and he has been drawn back there ever since, even though he now lives in London.

Hegley boasts he can still recite the Luton Town team of 1968. He lived in Luton until he was 16. After leaving school, he worked as a bus conductor and social security clerk before studying at Bradford University and working as a nurse in a mental hospital. His first notable media exposure as a poet was the John Peel sessions (Radio One) with the Popticians in 1983-84. He has released seven books, with his first, Glad to Wear Glasses, published in 1990. In 2000, he received an honorary arts doctorate from Luton University.



Totnes by Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey, 41, was born in Cheshire and moved to Dartington, near Totnes in Devon, when he was 17.

"Totnes is renowned for its alternative culture - ever since the progressive education was started at Dartington Hall the place has attracted alternative types. I always say that both men and women here produce Totnesterone. It is the freedom in Totnes that I love." Mr Harvey, who is married with twin sons, worked in a psychotherapeutic residential community for several years before focusing on his poetry since 1992. His poems cover topics as varied as religious conversions, medical procedures and classified advertisements. He has written four books, and co-created the Radio 4 series 'One Night Stanza' with Rory Motion.

Twinned with Glastonbury in its too-tender hear t
Organic, outraged - 'Say no to GMO!' 'N o'
Tastefully tantric, not tacky, nothing like tha t
New age, navel-gazing its numinous abdome n
Empathic, embracing every ethical energy sourc e
Sceptical of the non-existence of angel s

Newcastle by Sean O'Brien

Sean O'Brien, 51, was born in London, grew up in Hull, studied at Cambridge but now lives in Newcastle. After teaching English in the South, he was first published in the 1980s and has become the only poet twice to have won the £10,000 Forward prize - in 1995 for "Ghost Train" and for "Downriver" in 2001.

He said: "There are many things to like about Newcastle. The river, the bridges, the city at night ... People can earn a living here as writers or artists." He writes poems about football and miners among other things. In December 2002, Cousin Coat, his selected poems of a quarter of a century, was published.

Now the summer night comes down let's sit and watch the river run -
Eastwards under seven bridges, summoning the moon and sea.
Where is the capital of Ocean? Lover: here and now.

Come down and drink along the quays where night is democratic.
Ask the moon its true address: This river, it will say,
Sunk deep in light. Of course there may be other places -

Too bad though that none of them is this place on this night.
Let's toast all those who'll never see the moon rise Tyneside-style: Even New Orleans and Venice long for what they cannot be.

Birmingham by David Hart

David Hart, 64, was born in Aberystwyth in Wales and studied in London and Wells, but he has lived and worked in Birmingham for the past 30 years. He has been an Anglican chaplain, a theatre critic and an arts administrator. He has been married twice and has four grown-up children. He works as a freelance writer and poet, running courses and workshops, some for people in hospital or those suffering from mental health problems. He said: "There are lots of people in Birmingham who like me didn't originate here and so there is a rich mix, which is exciting. Birmingham has no big, flowing water, in fact, you couldn't get much further from the sea, which is cruel. Poetry needs water; it needs flow, movement and as Birmingham doesn't have that, you have to find what's there fixed."

Brummagem in King Offa's middle lands, ba b.
Imperialised rich mix off Junction 6 Spaghett i.
Rotunda around which the world spins, dea r.
Mooch the new Bull Ring, the blobs, gawp 'e m.
In secret be a Cadburyholic, drive an old Min i.
Not adjectivally a rosy city, keep yer'ead dow n.
Get to St Andrews or the Villa and get yellin g.
Hoot the canals, sing the little rivers awas h
agin the meres, crofts, leats, vales and leys a
merry Hobbit's haunt is Birmingham, ma m.

Cardiff by Gwyneth Lewis

Gwyneth Lewis, 44, was born in Cardiff but left to go to Cambridge University and later to live in the US for three years. After more studies at Oxford University, she worked as a producer with the BBC before taking voluntary redundancy in 1999 to pursue a career as a writer. Lewis said: "I really love Cardiff and always miss it terribly whenever I'm away. The main thing about it is that it's a port city and that colours everything. It's always had contact with the rest of the world, so it's very outward looking. As it's quite small you'll often bump into people you know, but you can still retain a level of privacy."

Coal split us like atoms, flung us everywhere -
Aden, Djibouti, Zanzibar - when steam
Ran empires, ships returned with wealth,
Docking new people down in Tiger Bay.
Intimate city with a global view,
Fragrant with hops when brewing Brains SA,
Fondled and forged by a quantum sea.