Skip to main content

Tale of Two Cities Vanessa Kisuule

Bristol City Poet
Vanessa Kisuule

Written by Vanessa Kisuule

Share this

This is the third poem commissioned from Vanessa Kisuule. It was performed at the State of the City Address 2018.

This will be the tale of two cities

Academic Mecca where students gather
Cheap drinks flow down gullets
Freedom never tasted so neon
The overripe fruit of friendship
Abundant and brilliant
The next generation’s innovators
incubate here, seeking life
Long union with knowledge
And brief affairs with basics vodka

But also anxieties rise with expectations
And tuition fees – not everyone
Finds like minds or takes to the ritual
Oblivion of pub crawls and club nights
Many feel the long shadow of
Loneliness hang over them
Facing a future clear as fog

This will be the tale of two cities 

The home place of St Paul’s Carnival
Polish shops squat between falafel joints
And Caribbean takeaways
All share square footage and cultural clout
White boys wear Aladdin pants and say wa gwan
Lilting from patois to West Country by way
Of Home Counties 

But we are not a true melting pot
More at ease with foreign food and music than people
We’re the most segregated city in the country
The divides of money, class and colour
Are the true soundtrack bubbling beneath
That Bob Marley tune 

This will be the tale of two cities 

Popular metropolis that so many
flock to, blessed respite from breeze block cities
All commerce and concrete but no heart
Drunk on hope, people up sticks and start again
Here, in a city with a seemingly endless

Now Bristol’s long standing residents
pay for this success story
Newcomers price many
Out of areas they once called home
The landscape morphing into slick cityscape
An inevitability? A travesty?
Depends on who you ask
Old timers make an earnest cry
To ‘Make Bristol Shit Again’ 

This will be the tale of two cities 

Where a haven of pop ups
And independent restaurants reigns
Eclectic morsels for eager mouths
Where the mezze at Baba Ganoush
On St Nicholas Road could make
A grown man weep with gratitude
Every corner boasts something
To make palettes sing and
Waistbands pucker 

But on the outskirts of this excess
Sits Hartcliffe
Residents face a 20 minute walk up
A fierce hill for a basic grocery shop
Fresh food not a given but a luxury
A piece of fruit either out of reach or
out of pocket 

This will be the tale of two cities 

But which do we tell? 

(The one where students raised over a 1000
For a cleaner to holiday in Jamaica

Or the one where someone employed
to serve and protect
Attacked a community elder 

The one where tourists flock to
Take selfies with Banksys

Or the one where local artists
Are upturned from their creative havens
So only those with cash flow
Can afford to dream 

The one where fun is a civic force
And summers are multi-coloured joy
The horizon polka-dotted with balloons

Or the one where youth centres disappear
Funding cut and slashed so kids
have nothing to do and all the cracks
To fall into 

The one where we decide to rip
The name of a slave trader from
Our biggest music venue

Or the one where the statue of
An imperialist still stares out
Across the Harbourside)

This has always been the tale of two cities
Both must be told in their entirety
Wearing the pride and the shame on each shoulder
We walk forward – knowing with hard work
One of those forces can far outshine the other

This is the revised written version of the poem; you can listen to Vanessa’s original performance in the link below. 

Header photo: Vanessa Kisuule speaking at the State of the city event 2018 (May Morton).

Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.

Find out how to update