by Lemn Sissay
Tide twists on the Thames and lifts the Lea to the brim of Bow
Where shoals of sirens work by way of the waves.
At the fire factory the fortress of flames
In tidal shifts East London Lampades made
Millions of matches that lit candles for the well-to-do
And the ne’er-do-well to do alike. Strike.
The greatest threat to their lives was
The sulferuous spite filled spit of diablo
The molten madness of a spark
They became spark catchers and on the word “strike”
a parched arched woman would dive
With hand outstretched to catch the light.
And Land like a crouching tiger with fist high
Holding the malevolent flare tight
‘til it became an ash dot in the palm. Strike.
The women applauded the magnificent grace
The skill it took, the pirouette in mid air
The precision, perfection and the peace.
Beneath stars by the bending bridge of Bow
In the silver sheen of a phosphorous moon
They practised Spark Catching.
“The fist the earth the spark it’s core
The fist the body the spark it’s heart”
The Matchmakers march. Strike.
Lampades The Torch bearers
The Catchers of light.
Sparks fly Matchmakers strike.
The Bryant and May factory site is near the Olympic Park in London. In 2012 Sarah Weir, then of the Olympic Delivery Authority, commissioned Lemn Sissay to write a poem to be displayed in the Park. In writing 'Spark Catchers'. Lemn was inspired by the words of Annie Besant, in support of the Matchgirls Strike:
“Failing a poet to hold up their conduct to the execration of posterity, enshrined in deathless verse, let us strive to touch their consciences, i.e. their pockets, and let us at least avoid being “partakers of their sins”, by abstaining from using their commodities.”
Read Lemn talk about his inspiration here.
With thanks to Lemn Sissay for authorising reproduction