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Lay for the Day
24th August

and 25th August were the days of Bartholomew Fair, at Smithfield on the northern edge of the City of London. Not surprisingly this great gathering for trade and entertainment, feasting and drinking, was notorious for fraudsters and thieves, as depicted in Ben Jonson’s play of the same name.

Bright Early Morning

Sunday, bright early morning,
and St John Street’s deserted,
a gulf of darkness
chilly at street-level,
but in the top-floor windows on that side
from one to the next
the sun blooms and flashes
and the sky behind is pure blue.

It’s a foreign country
and I wander down the road like a newcomer,
Sunday, bright early morning,
reading every date and foundation stone,
tatty plastic or polished business nameplates
by unpromising stairways,
the ghost names over boarded windows…

And I find that Bartholomew Fair
was deemed a public nuisance and prevented
in the 1850s,
conveniently perhaps.
Now the Smooth Field that was Smithfield is
1/8 acre perhaps,
a fountain and a ring of benches,

and the rest
with the bulk of the City’s square inches
from here to the river
hidden from the sun by the price of land,
even on Sunday,
bright early morning.

John Gibbens
from Falling Down

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar