How the city has inspired London's poet laureate

The city’s poet laureate Tom Cull held a book launch for his new collection of poems this week, Bad Animals.

Cull was named the city's designated ambassador for poetry in July 2016

Tom Cull, London's poet laureate, has written a book of poetry focused on the relationship between people, animals and nature. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

It doesn't start at a desk or with pen and notebook at a cafe.

When Tom Cull comes up with an idea for a piece of poetry, he's often walking through London.

The city's poet laureate held a book launch for his new collection of poems this week, Bad Animals.

Cull, who's also an assistant professor in creative writing at Western University, gets his inspiration from his long walks — both the beauty of London and the environmental degradation he sees all around him.

One day when he was making his way along Wellington Street, he saw five teenagers throwing five vacuums in the Thames River. He started weaving together a narrative.

"That became a long poem that imagined the stories of these vacuums as they floated down the river," said Cull on CBC Radio One's London Morning.

Finding a sense of home

Cull made London home 11 years ago.

"When I moved here I was living in my mum's basement, working on my doctoral thesis," said Cull.

"It was a lonely life when I first moved here."

He spent a lot of time at that point in his life exploring the city, finding solace along the London's walking paths.

But the transition became even easier after Cull attended a Poetry London reading.

It was there that he started assembling a network of friends and peers.

"To be a writer, at least for me, you have to be surrounded by artists, by people who you can talk to, share your work with."

"That's what I found here, a community."

Cull was named the city's latest poet laureate in July 2016, a designated ambassador for poetry in the city. London is one of 11 Ontario cities with the position.

From academic to published poet

It's one thing to write poetry, it's quite another to share it for the world to hear and read.

As an academic, Cull has spent most of his life studying the classics, becoming well acquainted with the work of accomplished writers.

His background became a double-edged sword. It gave him the knowledge and appreciation to become a poet, the problem was he put a great deal of pressure on himself.

"When you study literature, and you teach literature, there's a danger of being so overwhelmed by the classics you think how am I going to write something?"

It took time to let that go, but once he did it freed him up to create and share his work.

And that brings us back to London's green spaces and river — which spurred on Cull's work and continues to fuel his creative juices.

Here's a piece from Bad Animals:

Trash Fish

In April, the carp return to Wellington Bridge.

Lumbering mud barges, they dredge the muck,

sub-terminal mouths form the Scream of Nature —

they savour tasty bits of crud, send up plumes of silt

like spice harvesters on a watery dune.

Saturday six-pack anglers sit under the bridge,

flick cigarette butts into the river and wait

for the bobber to dive. The ponderous pull

of a hooked carp is hardly sport — landing one's

like lifting a sleeping infant out of a car seat.

The man hoists his catch for his toddler to see.

The fish convulses and falls on wet rocks.

The man kicks at it; it slaps back into the water.

Too late, too battered, it flounders in the shallows

gasping, capsized like a Carnival Cruise.

Cars rush overhead: home from the market, hemp

bags stuffed with tilapia, trout, farm-fresh

salmon, line-caught halibut. The fishermen

beneath crack their last tall boys, the osprey

and heron bide their time, and the carp under

Wellington Bridge

hunch against the current — their

teeth in their throats — and

continue to pack on the pounds.