Every town needs a Tony

7 May

As Tony says, ‘every town should have a community poet’.

I first met Tony back on the Domestic Cherry vintage poetry bus at the first Swindon Poetry Festival. He introduced himself as Swindon’s Community Poet and I had no cause to challenge him. He launched himself with that title back at the turn of the century and it has been accepted ever since.

At the start of his event at the Swindon Festival of Literature, fellow poet Sara-Jane Arbury asked him what he meant by ‘community poet’. Tony thanked everyone for coming and then…choked up. This is Tony. He is a heartfelt witness for all manner of social ills because he loves people, especially in his adopted town of Swindon. ‘Scratch the surface and you find diamonds’. This is a metaphor designed for newish towns like Swindon and Slough and a.n.other big towns-which-should-be-cities up and down the UK without a cotswold-beige prettiness or A-list pop band-venues or sophisticated shopping, it is the community which makes it, and Tony has firmly embedded himself in that community – and loves it. Tony is the one who sets up the maypole dancing on the first day of Swindon Festival of Literature. He is the first on the Beehive dance floor, or even jives around to the auditorium music as the Swindon Arts Centre audience waits for the author to begin their talk. Not bad for someone threescore years and ten.

Swindon Diamonds – the video

After the Dawn Chorus launch of the Festival this year he leapt to the front in one of his hats while the packing up commenced and read an animated off-the-cuff composition about the event. “Poems are best served hot,” he says, not for him the agonising over words, Tony prefers the passion of the moment: ‘what you write is right.’

Zulu Dawn

All Covid- Winter long
this poet rehearsed thermal and emotional layers
as life years trundled through his heart.
Four thirty morning mobile alarms
Raised one, then tow tired maypole arms.
Dawn Chorus of the 28th Lit Fest Kind
Yawned and called from Lawns
Juggled and tap danced from Lawns
Lamb baa-ed from Swindon Lawns
Cushion, banana, axe and bog brush
uni-cycled Hi-Ho Jake mature
@ Swindon Festival of Literature
nestling in dawnlight
nestling once more in this Community Poet’s heart
startled sweetly by Zulu farmer dance and song seen from Park South
In this way Globalisation comes to Lawns Bluff
of Swindon Festival of Literature
we have never, no never, had enough.

He has, in part, earned his community poet status by going to Swindon stuff and writing about it, uninvited, uncommissioned but the end result is welcome. A few years ago, Pebley Beach car dealership commissioned a poem to commemorate Swindon and Tony was the man for the job, writing Swindon Diamonds, the name of his collection. The council put one of his poems on a bus; the Beehive pub asked for a composition for their cricket team. Alongside gardening, gigs like this fund his life after teaching and youth and community work. Today, the audience gathers online to hear his poetry and his thoughts and, unusually for an online event even for big names, they all stay to the end, the questions gathering like bees and Tony promises to reply post-event as we run out of time. The love is returned.

Words by Louisa Davison

Buy Swindon Diamonds here.

Watch Tony’s event

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