• Photograph of three people by the river
    Jeremiah Brown with the MBNA Thames Clippers team. Photo: Paul Blakemoree

Last month, we sat down with a group of clandestine poets and spoken word artists who are taking part in the Thames Festival Trust's new talent development programme Boat Poets, in collaboration with Roundhouse and National Poetry Library. The group were selected from the Roundhouse Resident Artists programme, and embody a range of different genres and styles.

We talked to Jeremiah ‘SugarJ’ Brown, about why he wanted to get involved with this project. Throughout July he has been travelling as part of his residency on MBNA Thames Clippers boats, recording his experiences.

His work will debut with poems placed on the river piers across London in September and with performances at the National Poetry Library and on MBNA Thames Clippers.

Why did you want to be involved in the project?

I think the idea of spending time engaging with the Thames and the water is something that really interested me. I first started writing poetry outside of English literature at school; I was actually doing an internship looking out onto the Thames. I sat thinking about what a nice view it was, and with time on my hands, why don’t I give writing a piece of work a go? That’s why I penned my first poem, I remember thinking it was beautiful and fascinating. When I was asked to be involved in Boat Poets it felt really linked to how I started off writing poetry in the first place.

I think the idea of people wanting to engage with the water, to get people to know the Thames and its presence, it allows for a different kind of approach. It’s really cool to receive a commission with freedom to write like this.

Tell us about your experiences with the river in the past?

I live in Croydon, and am always travelling into London; so I’m coming into London Bridge or London Victoria or Waterloo, both of which are by the river, so I’m liable to be engaging with it. I see the river a lot and almost take it for granted. I have little or no awareness of the life and lives of the river and those that exist on it.

How do you feel about being able to engage with the river itself?

For me, I’ll take the long way home just to stand or walk by the river. I’m always fascinated by bodies of water. I think they’re really incredible pieces of nature; the eternal rippling of it is just so powerful. Water, for me, is something observational; it’s something that lets you look at it, you can watch it for long amounts of time and never get bored.

The idea of being on a boat, on the Thames, has never really occurred to me.  The idea of going on it just seemed confusing. We see wide eyed tourists with cameras, but never ourselves.  

How do you perceive the river in relation to your work?

I think it’s a point of reference. We use nature as poets anyway, using it as a metaphor for so many things, whether it’s the idea of using water to talk about God, or the ripples and the sense of it always moving. There’s so much that we tie different aspects of nature to. There’s so much there that’s associative with water, that I feel constantly like poets go back to, and engage with in work.

How have you been working out how to approach the project?

I’ve had to think about how I as a poet engage with the water, what does that look like. In my mind I’m not thinking of writing a descriptive piece about the River Thames or water, that doesn’t excite me. It’s trying to think about what the water means to me, what does it mean to people on it? What about those who don’t engage with it, or those who didn’t know you could engage with it?

I’m interested in how the river can be such a fixture in London, and yet not occupy people’s minds. Is the Thames an angry child that is being rejected, is it an angry lover? There’s so much there you can play with.

  • You can catch Jeremiah ‘SugarJ’ Brown performing with the Boat Poets during Totally Thames in September.