tower block 55: a poem by penny goring

London-based artist and poet Penny Goring uses unorthodox methods casually yet meticulously, to make works that are 'very carefully wrong.' Learn more about Penny here and read her poem Tower Block 55, written for The Fifth Sense.

Born in New Cross in London in the early 60's, London-based artist and poet Penny Goring spent a number of years at various art schools, eventually graduating in 1994 with a First Class (Hons) Degree in Fine Art and Commendation for her dissertation on the artist Louise Bourgeois. In the same way that Louise Bourgeois used a variety of methods to release the emotional turmoil from the course of her life, Penny creates with words and whichever cheap and domestic materials she has on hand - salt dough instead of clay, food dye instead of ink, ballpoint pens and felt tips instead of pencils and paint, open office instead of word and ms paint instead of photoshop. Over the past 50 years, her unconventional use of shapes, colors and fabrics has evolved so that today, they distinctly form the visual language of Penny's inimitable world.

Weeping Garden, courtesy Penny Goring and Arcadia Missa
Weeping Garden, courtesy Penny Goring and Arcadia Missa

Do you remember the first time you felt compelled to channel your feelings into a poem? 

Yes! I was compelled. I fought it. I was in early sobriety and I was painting every day, but over the course of a year or so, swarms of words were invading my headspace and I was trying to ignore them - it was annoying. I thought at the time that painting and only painting was my True Purpose. But then I kept waking in tears from a heartbreaking recurring dream. Finally, at like 3am one awful night I jumped off my soggy pillow and scribbled all the memories that I knew were causing this dream into my sketchbook. Then I spent a week carving it into a 500 word shape that people told me was a poem. Then a magic thing happened – the dream stopped. That's how I discovered that if i write about stuff, the process takes it away from me. My memories and emotions are transformed, repackaged, and stored on a high shelf. They can't hurt me any more. They exist without me. If, over time, they wriggle back out, I can write more. In this way, I found I could redeem trauma, force it to work as protection, not damage. 

I live it, sleep dream sweat weep it. It’s my own dimension. I made it for me. It keeps me alive. I cannot live in any other way. Romantic Love is a spongy treacherous distraction. My work bends to my will, never hits me, is always there for me, suits my every mood swing, can cope with being cut to bits or stroked gently. I can sing it, digitise it, write it, draw it, sew it, love or hate it. Where else and with who or what could I have a relationship like that? It's not easy, but it is mine.

Poetry is often poignant in the way it can beautifully articulate our feelings, both universally and the ones we’re often too ashamed to have. What makes is so essential to you? 

It ignores the strict walls words are used to build, it uses words instead to make freedom spaces where we can say what we need to say, however we want. Poetry happens despite words, not because of. I love that. I get a thrill when I read something by someone who is breaking down the walls with the very words they are usually built with. Yes, because these old word-things are all we've been given. But we don't have to employ them in the ways we are expected to. Words are not just for the government to tell lies with and hide atrocities behind. Or for deadly polite legalise and unforgiving forms to fill in that decide if you eat or starve. Or for news outlets to spread their money-led propaganda. I'm reading The Favourite Game by Leonard Cohen right now, he breaks with words beautifully. But he's dead. And yet he's still breaking stuff beautifully. He's still being himself. In my head. I adore that. I'm glad I will never meet him. I don't ever want to meet people who can move me. It's unnecessary. It spoils everything.

I can sing it, digitise it, write it, draw it, sew it, love or hate it.

Are there certain themes you feel you naturally or consciously explore more than others?

I explore themes that are close to me. That covers quite a lot of ground. I've experienced lots of highs and too much rock bottom gutter-level traumatic, dangerous, death-bringing, emotionally abusive and actual physically violent lows. I lived reckless until I got sober 11 years ago. I often make stuff concerning death and grief because I've lost a lot of friends and most of my lovers - these people are still with me in strange ways, and I honour them, use them, make them work with me. These days I feel compassion that I wasn't lucky enough to possess before. I have always lived under the rule of men and money, and right now I am angry at the ways it hobbles my life and my body. I find this future we are in to be terrifying and disgusting. Also, ridiculous, in the way of a murderous clown. And I hate that it somehow feels inevitable, relentless, like a speeding juggernaut. 

Sometimes I think of my sculptures as Anxiety Objects - because there's a huge amount of fear in the air I'm breathing today. And I'm at the tail-end of my menopause. It's been raging through me since 2007. That was the year I started bleeding heavily non-stop for over 12 months. This final stretch is a more manageable hellscape – and I'm completely free of sex-drive now, and that's bliss. I have the chance to be a True Person now. This tiny slice of freedom is worth losing your looks for. Having been leered at and longed for throughout childhood and adulthood - as we all are - now I can say fuck off without even moving my mouth, simply by being unapologetically old. So, that's: death/grief, recovery, addiction, anger, fear, powerlessness, ageing. These are a few of my favourite themes. Not forgetting there's always love and care, everything I make is fragile, vulnerable. Other themes: I'm bisexual, 'mentally ill', disabled, a survivor of domestic violence, casual violence, school violence.

Who are some of your female role models that have influenced your practice today?

Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse and Frida Khalo. I see their work as experiments with grief, they dug deeply into the detail - the deeper you go the more likely a marvelous, precious (w)hole. These women are touchstones. They are dead and I am alive.

Where does the future of poetry lie in your opinion? 

I reckon it could save us if we let it off its leash. Unleash it. Yeah. Let it rip throats out. Those throats that need ripping. And let it save those of us who need saving.

Hex ffs, courtesy Penny Goring and Arcadia Missa
Hex ffs, courtesy Penny Goring and Arcadia Missa

Tower Block 55

on my dirty balcony that cannot support the weight

of the flowers i'm growing

& the vultures nesting in my terracotta pots

(i am me & i ages) my skinny lil arms full of woman

Curse Dolls

this tower block bleeding the sky

i smell same as you: (onion, hyacinth, sausage, cream)

amorphous enough to fill spaces

solid enough to endure the rising levels of ordure

(i am high up here) & i cry tears from the sting of the onion

not real tears from the sting of the thing between us

& i bleed slo-mo

& i wish fast

my mouth a wide wet kidney dish

i am

sleep walking naked in Peckham down the Clayton Road

Sorry i am wearing the lodger

i am wearing a girl means Survivor

i smell reluctant remnant of the days that run away

i smell very carefully wrong

i smell beggar, bleeder, liar, lover, crippled sexgod, thief

i am the balcony diver

i smell slashed wrists in the Maudsley

i am only eating jelly babies

bus stop on Lavender Hill

i am throwing your books off my balcony

we are riveted river run dry

My only tool is 13 golden clits at the end of my gun

i smell over the top

i smell over the hill

KAPOW! (i am us & we was)

i am

baking an ugly cake, you will eat it

i am knitting an ugly jumper, it will fit you

keep time at arms length, dodge its feely breath

or smell my big death, little death, idc



i am wearing the shape & smell of your dust

What happens if you're lucky

they haven't put a stop to that yet

vulture on my shoulder is cooing

Open the fridge, something is rotting:



on my dirty balcony look over the railings you will see: landmarks, abyss, junction

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