No more content to plod along the beaten paths*

*Amy Levy

Kirkland’s “Modern Baker” of 1907 describes a Nelson Square as “a much-despised confection, the position of which is near the nadir of the craftsman’s ambition, yet it has its uses and its excellences…This sort of cake is made in bakeries for using up cake cuttings and other scraps that might otherwise be wasted. It is sometimes given the opprobriously sounding name of “shonky”.”.

Just my little jest: the Nelson Square I approach this morning lies off Blackfriars Road, Southwark. Juha Repo, of the Nelson Square Gardens Community Association, wrote on 8th March 2017 that the builders had finally left the Square:

“There are now four entrances to the square, with no gates at all. For the first time in decades you can now cross the garden diagonally from the Blackfriars Road entrance to the middle of Pocock Street, using the opening between Applegarth House and the old Georgian terraces.

Very little is now left of the square as it was before the wars. But six of the originally seven plane trees still remain. These trees were here long before any of the square was built and are now hundreds of years old.”.

I am on my way to the Guild of Psychotherapists at no 47, one of the remaining Georgian houses, to hear Rafael Alves Lima speak at the invitation of the College of Psychoanalysts UK, on “Psychoanalysis in the Shadow of Dictatorship”, about the challenges for psychoanalysis in the face of the current political situation in Brazil.

A lone plane tree grows in the garden of the Guild. As I listen to Rafael speak, I will for a moment see it as a representative of the “disappeared”. He tells us how in his native São Paulo, the tradition of Freud’s street clinics continues in Roosevelt Square. I am introduced to the concept of hybrid warfare.

The London Plane, I read in an article by Ben Venables, is most likely a hybrid between the American sycamore and the Oriental plane, probably formed in the Vauxhall nursery garden of John Tradescant the younger in the mid 17th Century. The hardy characteristics which make it “the urban tree of choice” include bark which breaks away in large flakes in order that the tree can cleanse itself of pollutants.

Amy Levy, in her poem “A London Plane-Tree” (published in 1889, posthumously, in a Collection of Verse) terms it the “recuperative bark”. Alex Goody, in “Murder In Mile End”, comments:

“In these poems and elsewhere the city instigates a disturbing unsettling of binaries and identifications which suggests the possibility of writing (of) divergent or subversive identities…”.

The collection contains lyrics that are among the first to show the influence of French symbolism.

Elissa Erin Myers writes of Amy:

“She is known particularly for the pleasure she took in travelling across the city in omnibuses, which after all, was fairly common, but she also rode on the tops of omnibuses, a practice that connoted both daring and a disregard for custom.”

Amy, who knew Eleanor Marx, and whose stories were published by Oscar Wilde, took her own life at the height of her literary career, two months before her twenty eighth birthday. She shut herself in a room of her home, with charcoal burning in the fire.

Two days ago, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver died at the age of eighty-three. The New York Times records that she “was occupied with intimate observations of flora and fauna”. So too, Robert Frost, whose poem “The Sound of Trees” closes with the lines:

“I shall set forth for somewhere,

I shall make the reckless choice

Some day when they are in voice

And tossing so as to scare

The white clouds over them on.

I shall have less to say,

But I shall be gone.”.

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