Walking the Coventry Ring Road With Lady Godiva has been a long, colourful journey. I used to walk under the ring road from home into the city centre; as a teenager to catch buses to and from school, or to sneak into pubs underage or to the Locarno to watch ska and punk bands including The Specials and Sex Pistols; for nights out with first boyfriends or for geeky moments in the library a short walk away from where Philip Larkin also drank as a teenager.
The road is modernist, brutal and mysterious: it follows the outline of the ruined walls of this former great medieval city; it was built by postwar workers like my parents who had come to live in a city that represented progress, economic stability and an egalitarian education for their children. Research at the city's Herbert Gallery revealed the road had been built the year I was born by George Wimpey And Co for the Coventry Corporation for the grand sum of £73,000. Today, sadly, my walks in the shadow of the ring road often take me to the London Road Cemetery where my parents are buried a short distance from the mass grave for those Coventry residents killed in the Blitz.
The place is in my soul. This sequence attempts to reach into the spirit of the place and its psycho-geography. The inspiration for this sequence came from Dante's circular walks through purgatory with the poet Virgil: what better companion than the legendary Lady Godiva? She was a thoughtful guide and offered a wisdom relevant to today.
The sequence is divided into cantos - here's a flavour of the first:
Beside me in the Cheylesmore underpass,
she took my hand and said: Abandon fear.
Sky Blues in red Doc Martens threw their cans
and punks in two-tone sang their ghost town near.
We walked ahead to where an island framed
walls friars had rescued from a king.
Looking within to workhouse grounds
Godgifu bent to lift a plate, broken in the dust,
that once touched lips made Holy by the flesh
and blood of Christ. Told me,
beside a cloister door, to taste the food
of lives that went before on Pancheon Blue,
Chinoiserie Porcelain, English Stone,
Cistercian Underglaze, Staffordshire Slip;
liturgy of clinker, glassy tap slag, bottles. Brick.
Luke Thompson, the inspirational editor and founder of the Guillemot Press, who published this poem, writes: " In this sequence Godgifu (Lady Godiva) guides the poet and reader along the titular road, circling the medieval city boundaries through demolition and bomb sites, past graveyards and Epstein’s angel, over rivers and monasteries, in a personal, poetic, spiritual and psychogeographic exploration of the city in which the poet was born. David Morleywrites: 'Ring Roadis a wonderful realisation of the poetry that is Coventry's past, present, and future: an archaeology and rediscovering of what it means to be a citizen of this fabled city.'
Walking the Coventry Ring Road
has been beautifully illustrated by Kristy Campbell, and printed on Mohawk Superfine papers and section sewn, with end papers from Fedrigoni. It is dedicated to the workers of Coventry. More details here:
More book details: https://www.guillemotpress.co.uk/poetry/cathy-galvin
With thanks to Jonathan Taylor for featuring a linked blog posting at Creative Writing Leicester here: http://creativewritingatleicester.blogspot.com/2019/11/cathy-galvin-walking-coventry-ring-road.html