by Deanna Rodger

Deanna Rodger is the youngest UK Poetry Slam Champion and has performed commissions everywhere, from Buckingham Palace to the Olympic opening ceremony.

Possibly the strangest poem I have written.
I wanted to explore all the secret passageways of St Paul’s to see beyond the awe, to understand the language of this building.

I was interested in Wren because I am interested in the stars - astronomy, astrology, quantum physics, the standard model, etc. His initial plans plans to redesign St Paul’s cathedral were rejected. He went to Paris. He came back within a week of the Great Fire of London with redevelopment plans for, not only the cathedral, but the whole city!

Wren was an astronomer before he was an architect. How did this practise, this knowledge of star patterns inform his designs and his ambition?
How has this informed our regeneration practise in 2016?

During the process of writing I read a quote about statues making the viewer their audience. The Henry Moore Mother and Child statue had caught my attention; walking around and around it, seeing differently each time; snatching glimpses of the Palestinian Mary and Jesus, viewing the crowd watching the Viola’s martyrs installation at the other side of the Quire, just up from a marble effigy of John Donne - one of the few monuments to survive the Great Fire of London. From another angle, capturing the Commemorative Crosses and a monument to Wellington which stand across from a memorial to the first Bishop of India, a ‘saviour giant’.
What are we born into?
Who houses and fosters our dreams and legacies?
Who observes our attempts at life? How do our standpoints affect our perspectives?

‘What will you build before you die?’


by Deanna Rodger


A Mother and Child rest as still as peace by the angels

Their sole flat on a marble circle

Sculptures make the viewer their subject. They direct:


‘Circle us when you visit us

encompass our dimensions

do not speak of one side

as our perspective. Tourist,

Do not miss the point.

Do not judge our existence as economical,

move around us as Earth is forced to,

as you once believed the sun to.

Think forward past presumptions, look about you.

Reimagine us at every degree

We are your creation:

Formation of birth and martyrs, prophecy and wars

Hear this and know that these things matter,

That we are life source


Phoenix masons

Those who have mastered how to house the dead

and deliver them the presence of the living

The detail is sacred.’



Christopher Wren,

an astronomer turned architect,

Returned from Paris in 1666 to a fire-eaten city with redevelopment plans in hand

His precision built this dome from his mind.


Regeneration of the old design


Who could have predicted it -

What does his astral natal chart read?

Where were the star signs and planets at the time of his birth?

Did he ever configure how the circles and houses aligned into prophecy?


A pilot for shock and awe tactic - an attempted gentrification?



Tell him his dome is not impressive, say it.

He will know you to be lying.

Tell him you don’t gasp like a suckling child, when you look up,

Tell him that you don’t crave it’s life?




Wren knew how to rewrite

A surprise saviour

Courage and luck, and divine intervention.

He who marks the star paths and predicts their patterns

finds flow in fire and life in ash.


What survived the 1941 Blitz?

Who saw six men digging out a 40,400 ton bomb to preserve St Paul’s?

Who now lives in the shock? The 100 foot crater left by the explosion of Hackney Marshes?


Who knew John Donne’s statue would be buried in books

That they would burn protecting him

That modern day students would become dumb to reciting their own narratives


Is this the point of genesis?


London’s city suckled and grew.


Age sediments thought, till forgotten

who they came from,

who they served.

Tracing patterns, this is nature.

Relics become stories, truths

identity finds hard to let go.


How do you breath beneath the domed layer of weight fumes and organ sounds?

Can you release your soul from gravity?

How can you not shape presence in the incense of the sky?


Saturn moves into Sagittarius

Squares Neptune - Natural law


Roof reinforcement

Rafter reconstruction

New generation, choose your materials


- Courage to redesign your city,

- Privilege and drive to draw and lay down plans

- Magic to conjure design through rejection.


Who’s done this?

Who knows themselves as God?

Who believes this to be true?

Who manifests places of worship and sanctuary, heavens and homes

Who controls sight, what is forseen?

Who’s reality is anything other than a membrane interpretation?

A constant state of receiving and giving, of sorting, of trusting

Disciples of blind faith and so,


are we not schema’s of knowing nothing but what we create?


Howard, Collins, Nightingale. Heroes.

The dead are lowered above Florence’s head.

(My commission research notes have balance and instinct written into them.

Heal this. Break chains which hold progression in suspense. Memorialise these figures in instinct.)


I do not know my history well enough to evidence my reluctance at praising warlords and their huge tombs.


Wellington, Nelson; curators of heroic acts.


What will you build before you die?

How will you affect the living?


Wandering past memorials of war 

Of ‘saviour’ giants and ‘poor small Indians’ 

How much is learnt from this through seeing?


Here is a war which will end all wars.

Here we are today still in wars.

The satellites now circling

The drones now killing.

People now dying

People now fleeing.


Before map apps, it was star paths

Before flashlights, it was moon light.


Make it


Where we want to experience this human world. 

Make it

Where we want to meet the pain

The best pulpit for the art of shocking news,

Of refugees and of martyrs - witness - perspective


Mass media turns us into the martyrs of other people's suffering.


Keep the views flooding in 

Keep the contemporary pieces coming in, showcasing

The other’s existence,

Guardian mirror’s seem to know them well.

Take time to observe all angles

to fall for every independent degree.




Ask your soul,

the part of you hidden from the rest of the world

hidden from yourself on most days,

ask that part,

‘How well do you remember the love you exploded through?

The tunnel you travelled through to arrive here,

crying trauma on both sides

Praised in foreign language

Patiently fed to peace.

Hums spiralling lullabies from the heavens of some dome


What do the alive know about living?

How shall we save ourselves before we die?’


Commissioned by Poet in the City and St Paul's Cathedral for Under the Skin 2016 ©
Audio recordings by Kieran Lucas. Photographs by Graham Lacdao.