The Friday Poem on 06/05/22
We chose ‘About the Building’ by Paul Stephenson to be this week’s Friday Poem because we love the air of mystique which pervades the poem. What is this building that is ‘homely in style’ and yet seems somehow forbidding or macabre, with its plaque and its ‘No parking’ sign and all that slick and glossy ominous red paint? The clue is in the last stanza, when we realise we’ve come to see a body, and the rush of insight — that this is a building very far from ‘homely’ — is made that much more moving as Stephenson brings his human, peopled experience into the poem. It’s cleverly done throughout, and very rewarding.
About the Building
The entry says it’s homely in style,
double-fronted and two-storied
with gable dormer windows in the roof.
It refers to brick quoins and brick surrounds,
two large chimneys, one either side,
and an arched entrance for large vehicles.
No mention is made of the red gloss paint
of the main door, or the red gloss paint
of the gates to the right. It doesn’t talk about
the sign: No parking – Gates in Constant Use,
or how the red acts as a beacon for visitors
when the day is turning overcast.
It speaks of a plaque dating back to 1891
by the Hackney District Board of Works,
and how the place would play
a wartime role in ‘Operation Mincemeat’,
inspire the international bestseller
The Man Who Never Was.
Rich in detail, it doesn’t tell you how
when you’ve an appointment to see the body,
you’ll stare over at the building
from inside a car, muttering That must be it,
while the driver, a family member
or close friend, roots around for change.