Our city has been the muse of artists and writers alike for centuries, inspiring novels, paintings, films, songs, sculptures, and architecture, all attempting to convey the beauty, depth and history of the capital. The recent launch of a new poem dedicated to London by emerging poet, writer and performer Tife Kusoro is a shining example of using poetry to profess their love to our beloved city.
Commissioned by the Illuminated River Foundation in collaboration with The Poetry Society, Kusoro’s short poem titled ‘I Would Rather Look At You’ describes a nighttime journey walking along the Thames from London Bridge to Lambeth Bridge. In six stanzas, the poem captures how personal encounters on the Thames that may seem simple or unimportant, like passing over its bridges on the way home, can unite Londoners and visitors through shared experiences and create an affinity with London’s most iconic river.
The piece also celebrates the Illuminated River project, a major public artwork by Leo Villareal and the longest piece of public art in the world, that lights up the Thames every night. The Illuminated River lights up nine bridges in central London and each bridge gets its own distinct lighting style using subtly moving sequences of LED lights. The Illuminated River has been experienced to date by around 300 million people in the capital along with many more people online.
A short film has been released showing Kusoro performing her poem against a backdrop of the artwork on the bridges.
I would rather look at you
by Tife Kusoro (after Frank O’Hara)
than all the portraits in the world, even when next to you
the river under London Bridge is glowing so gently that cyclists
stop to take some home
partly because tonight against the artificial dawn you’re lit like
the main character in a Barry Jenkins film, and I would rather watch you
wait for your chips than walk all the way to the Tate
partly because the Tate is closed this time of night, and anyway
the only moment worth immortalising is the one where you notice
a blade of Light dart across the Thames
your laughter flashes so fast the moon turns to catch it, and
it’s no wonder Monet painted Waterloo Bridge forty-one times when
one canvas is too slow to trap anything that dances
it’s no wonder it took years to light a smile on this part of the river,
I think of the person that thought to do it, whether they knew you’d stop by
the water and become a dragonfly
whether they pictured me looking at you looking at Lambeth Bridge,
three of us washed in the iridescence of a city always
shining its eyes
Kusoro was chosen by the Foundation to respond freely and creatively to the Illuminated River artwork. Of the commission, Kusoro says: “I enjoyed finding a way to write something that’s both personal and universal, finding a balance to make it about the art and the city but also about myself and my response. I hope that anyone who experiences the poem or Illuminated River is inspired to be present and take in the city and the people around them.”
The collaboration between Illuminated River and The Poetry Society is a show of commitment to supporting talented people in the arts by providing direct commissions along with its Community Fund, which aims to encourage local groups to engage communities with the artwork and the bridges.