Thursday, 25 June 2015

New Poem Published: 'Sherlock Holmes in Red Cross Garden'

Sherlock Holmes, from The Naval Treaty, by Sidney Paget

The Pakistan-based literary and arts journal/website The Missing Slate, who have previously published my work, have just published my poem 'Sherlock Holmes in Red Cross Garden' .

This poem is, of course, one of the four that I wrote for my recent residency with Red Cross Garden, organised by the Poetry School and the London Open Garden Squares Weekend. It was the first poem that I wrote, since Holmes walked into the garden in a very definite way not long after I first visited it and started reading and thinking about it.

I would call this quite a personal poem, though it's hard to explain how exactly. Sherlock Holmes has accompanied me for so much of my life (since I was seven years old, I think) that he has become a part of me in a way I wouldn't say any other fictional character has (and where Holmes is, there Watson is as well, usually). He's led me down so many literary, figurative and real pathways that whenever he shows up, he remains both familiar and fascinating - and also, a kind of mirror for myself.

When I had written the poem I realised that there was an undertone of anxiety in it which surprised me a little. This is not a Holmes in the best frame of mind, I think. He may be preoccupied with the details of an unspecified case, but Watson isn't wrong when he suspects Holmes's preoccupation goes beyond that. I think he is awaiting a confrontation, to come sooner or later, and he is looking for solace amongst the flowers. "What a lovely thing a rose is" is directly from the story The Naval Treaty, in which Holmes speaks unexpectedly and passionately about the beauty and significance of flowers. It is also a passage which indicates that Holmes was no atheist, which in modern times he is often popularly supposed to be. "There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion," he says. "Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers."


  1. It may be reading too much into your poem, but I have the strong sense that Holmes has come to the garden for clues. Many botanical elements seem personified to me, as if consciously anxious to impart what they know: 'He's scanning the book of flowers', 'Flowers are the chemicals of light', and 'Wisteria crawls on the pergola'. It does not seem coincidental that the 'women keep their unreadable faces turned away' while 'Motives are like the changing code of the sundial', in this case not a plant but a piece of garden art which seems to have something vital to say. Finally, 'The pathways twist with delight' brings another inanimate object to life, making me wonder, especially in light of what you say yourself about the poem: what is the relation between consolation and clue, between accurate deduction and a desultory stroll through the flowers?

    1. Thanks for the close reading, Mark. I really appreciate that!

      Re-reading the poem myself, I think Holmes could be there either looking for direct clues, or allowing his subconscious to work on a puzzle in a setting where what he sees might set off a train of thought. I worked in a few glancing references to a few Holmes stories, including amongst others the description of the women (in one story he comments on the inscrutable motives of women), and the wisteria...there's a story called 'Wisteria Lodge', as well as the fact that the garden has wisteria in real life! There were a few features like that in the garden which I was able to quickly connect to Holmes stories, which may in fact have triggered off the poem.

      There's also the fact that my love for Sherlock Holmes is a little bit of a mystery even to me. I'm not really a fan of detective fiction. I can't pick up on clues so unless they are good works of literature in themselves, I am just not interested. I think I encountered Holmes at an extremely impressionable age and that had a lot to do with it, but there are a great many factors which might (taken all together) explain why he's stayed so strongly with me my whole life. I was encountering a lot of other fiction and fictional characters around then, too, some of which/whom I love a lot, but he occupies a special position.