London Rivers Week: Thames inspired poetry

The River Thames holds the story of how London came to be one of the most culturally rich and diverse places on the planet. Today the river is the centre of working life for thousands of people, and a centre for tourism and industry. It also acts as a source of creative influence for painters, writers, poets, designers, musicians, artists - the list goes on.

As part of Thames21's London Rivers Week we are spotlighting odes to our River Thames to highlight the rousing and diverse perspectives it inspires. Check out our river inspired poetry by leading lights including Toby Campion, Caleb Femi, Rachel Nwokoro, Jeremiah 'SugarJ' Brown and Erin Bolens.

The Thames as Mother, extract by Toby Campion


Everybody knows you don’t mess with her.
Her spine survives war,
brick red sweat enough to flood three boroughs,
a raised eyebrow could drag you for miles.
You just don’t mess with that.

How proud she is of her children
in their suits and land legs and screw faces.
So serious,
she smiles, so grown.

How she has been crying.
How she cannot sleep.
How often she wishes she could flow backwards,
unfall from the sky and evaporate
into her mother’s womb.

Toby Campion was a Boat Poet resident with Cory Riverside Energy who use waste to produce safe sustainable energy for London.

Green Tea in the Wheelhouse, extract by Rachel Nwokoro

Gliding on the Thames feels like

Welcoming bubbles
And gulls
Silent gulls searching for mini industrial beaches
Greyed sand melts
Around a bald man searching for treasure
Unquestioned waiting
We pass by.

Rachel's Boat Poet residency was aboard Livett's Launches, a family business that has operated on the Thames in London since 1710.


Devour by Jeremiah 'SugarJ' Brown


The surface is camouflage green,
a flat fronted boat rustles through
water like it were undergrowth.


stands more as warning than name.
I watch boat front turn to teeth
as it eats its way through water,
never full, never filling up.

The lady next to me has braided hair
she is eating Wasabi, rice and chicken curry.

I want some

She gets up as soon as I think this, selfish.
Relocating to the other side for a window seat,
I watch her become DEVOUR, only different.

She eats and is filled up.
Puts lid on box and is full.
Unlike her DEVOUR is white.

Jeremiah was resident Boat Poet with MBNA Thames Clippers who run the fastest and most frequent fleet on the river.

The Riverbank by Erin Bolens

More purpose than a lake.
Less ambition than the sea.
More romance than a road.
Well no one has Friday drinks by the M1 do they?
No one has a favourite set of traffic lights
or goes for picnics on a dual carriageway.
I never stop and pause just to listen to cars
or wave to people on bridges when I’m driving.
I certainly wouldn’t pay for a roundtrip in a taxi.
What is it about watching water?
What do we withdraw from riverbanks
that has us always coming back?

Erin joined Bennett’s Barges for her Boat Poets residency, who have one of the largest fleets of barges on the Thames.


Self Portrait as River by Caleb Femi


You look inside yourself
and see a trick mirror
rippling a version of your face and a hydro-panic settles into you.

The first mirror was a river.
The first face met a question
that split it in two.

Who is on the right side?
The you that you know, who sits
counting all the wet days of summer?

Or the you that you do not know,
who exists on neither side of maritime law;
the searcher, the possible,
the transparent eye?

Caleb is a spoken word poet and last year's Young People's Laureate with Spread the Word. Caleb worked with some of the Rivers of the World pupils last year and wrote this poem in response to the project.