Friday 6th December 2019

Deconstructing Empire: The Great British Fantasy? explored the colonial nostalgia that has crept into so much of our contemporary debate, from Brexit, to border control, to the (at the time) imminent General Election. This persistent yearning to return to a time when Britain was leading the world has found itself driving a divided nation in crisis, with whitewashed memories of Britain’s imperial legacy distorting the public view on what it means to be British today.

Seminal British poet and artist William Blake’s poem-turned-hymn Jerusalem has often been held up as a symbol of Britain’s colonial ambitions, with his portrayal of a “green & pleasant Land” painting an idyllic view of a nation at peace. But did this time ever exist, and could it ever be returned to today?

Poet in the City Producers presented an evening of poetry, music and discussion in the Wren Suite at St Paul’s excavating these cultural narratives and reclaiming and redefining our own identities at the heart of this British landmark, featuring poetry performance from Imtiaz Dharker, and performance and discussion with bassoonist Linton Wesley Stephens and poet Anthony Anaxagorou, chaired by Dr Sona Datta.


Imtiaz Dharker is a poet, artist and documentary film-maker. Awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014, recipient of the Cholmondley Award and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, her collections include Purdah (Oxford University Press), Postcards from god, I speak for the devil and The terrorist at my table (all published by Penguin India and Bloodaxe Books UK), Leaving Fingerprints and Over the Moon (Bloodaxe Books UK). Her poems are on the British GCSE and A Level English syllabus, and she reads with other poets at Poetry Live! events all over the country to more than 25,000 students a year. She has been Poet in Residence at Cambridge University Library, for Thresholds, and has recently completed a series of poems based on the Archives of St Paul’s Cathedral. She has had ten solo exhibitions of drawings in India, London, New York and Hong Kong. She scripts and directs films, many of them for non-government organisations in India, working in the area of shelter, education and health for women and children.

Anthony Anaxagorou is a British-born Cypriot poet, fiction writer, essayist, publisher and poetry educator. His poetry has been published in POETRY, The Poetry Review, Poetry London, Granta, Ambit, The Adroit Journal and The Rialto. His work has appeared on BBC Newsnight, BBC Radio 4, ITV, Vice UK, Channel 4 and Sky Arts. His second collection After the Formalities published by Penned in the Margins is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation alongside being selected as one of The Telegraph’s best poetry books of 2019. Most recently it was shortlisted for the 2019 T.S Eliot Prize. He was awarded the 2019 H-100 Award for writing and publishing, and the 2015 Groucho Maverick Award for his poetry and fiction. In 2019 he was made an honorary fellow of the University of Roehampton. Anthony is artistic director of Out-Spoken, a monthly poetry and music night held at London’s Southbank Centre, and publisher of Out-Spoken Press.

Linton Wesley Stephens was born in Chester and grew up on the Wirral. He began playing the Bassoon at the age of 16. He is the sub-principal bassoon with Chineke! Orchestra with whom he has performed at the proms and Wigmore hall. He also enjoys varied freelance career. Recent appearances include BBC Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Clonter Opera, Opera North, European Opera Centre, Northern Chamber Orchestra, English National Ballet, and the South Pacific tour. A passionate advocate for music education and equality within the industry; he regularly runs workshops and coaches ensembles for young musicians throughout the country as well holding a seat on the board for the Musicians Union equality committee.

Dr Sona Datta is a curator, writer, and broadcaster of South Asian art from Medieval to Modern. She was is a 2019/20 Clore Leadership Fellow.