Ever noticed these little metal discs in the pavement? They're coal holes, relics of another age. In days gone by, the passing coal man would raise the lid and pour the fuel into your basement. Central heating and clean air acts put an end to these quaint deliveries, but the coal holes remain all over the inner city.
Some years ago, Maria Vlotides decided to celebrate these humble discs with a special art project. She commissioned and installed a series of new coal hole covers throughout the Notting Hill area, each one embossed with a poem from a leading author. Names such as Sebastian Faulks, PD James and Margaret Drabble contributed. A few of the plates can be seen here.
Maria has now captured the spirit of this project in book form, itself a work of art. Pavement Poetry tells the story by reprinting correspondence between the author and those who helped make it happen. Letters include responses from poets, literary societies, funding councils, her local authority, and publishing houses rejecting the book proposal. These are fascinating on many levels. Some authors offer a snooty 'no' to the idea (via a PA). Others respond with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Many of the letters are written by hand or even typewriter (imagine!), sometimes illegibly.
The second section reproduces the covers. Our favourite has to be this disguised dig at Shepherd's Bush, from Sebastian Faulks:
A word in your eye
Don't worry or push
A step in the Gate
Is worth two in the Bush
Other sections include a map showing the final locations of the coal plates, a summary of the press response, and a short history of coal holes. Fans of street furniture (and we know you're out there) will rejoice at the final section, which compiles around 100 photos documenting the many designs and patterns present on traditional coal hole covers, as well as a list of foundries. Sometime Londonist contributor Jane Parker even makes it into a list of sources.
By no means a book for everyone (especially with an 'arty book' price tag of £38.99), Pavement Poetry will nevertheless find its devotees among those who enjoy the everyday things that most people never notice.
Pavement Poetry by Maria Vlotides is available now, in a limited run of 500, from Pedestrian Publishing.