I don’t often post serious poems, but today I stood and watched the demolition of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, south London. Although few could have described the architecture as beautiful, it was home to thousands, many of whom resisted the council’s efforts to displace them. ‘Elephant Park’, as the site will soon be known, will contain less housing and far fewer options for those unable to afford London property prices.
‘Brutalist’, they say.
Each stark and staring concrete slab
As dull as tombs. And so they grab
With greedy grasping fists the land
Where graveyard-grey the blocks still stand,
Declare (with nose in air) ‘A slum.
A place of vermin, vice and scum’.
People cry and people shout:
‘But they’re our homes! And look, they sprout
With signs of life! Our hopes! Our dreams!’
Their voices can’t be heard, it seems,
Beneath the roaring onward tide
Of all south London, gentrified.
So diggers come, with claws that grip,
And vicious jaws that rasp, and rip
Huge wounds. And in the dust and mud
The past comes pouring out, like blood.
A past that lived, a part that breathed
Within those blocks, once concrete-sheathed.
‘Look!’ they say, ‘A new estate!
It’s called a park! Move in! It’s great!’
The people shake their heads. ‘That’s nice,
But well, we can’t afford the price’.
And so their lives and loves all must
Be crushed, and crumble, fall to dust,
And where there once stood concrete slabs
Are now just holes, like festered scabs.
What does it mean, ‘brutalist’?