Unexpected Guest

Simon Armitage wrote “An Unexpected Guest” for the Coronation. The concept is an ordinary person witnessing history:

She’s treated herself to new shoes, a window seat
on the fast train, a hotel for a night.
She’s been to the capital twice before,
once to see Tutankhamun when she was nine
and once when it rained. Crossing The Mall

she’s just a person like everyone else
but her hand keeps checking the invitation,
her thumb strumming the gilded edge of the card,
her finger tracing the thread of embossed leaves.
In sight of the great porch she can’t believe
the police just step aside, that doors shaped
for God and giants should open to let her in.


It’s a poem that jumps boundaries. I’d like to think of her as a volunteer, one of the unassuming masses that get important jobs done without fuss. If only we could harness the “Unexpected Guests” within our community. Imagine the difference it would make.

I’ve spent decades defending Swindon at poetry festivals when confronted with the negatives. I know the grim buildings are from the fifties, the centre has too many boarded-up shops, the permanent scaffolding around the Mechanics Institute and other eyesores. On the positive, I extol the green spaces within the town and inner Wiltshire, lucky to live here.

I was out with volunteers picking up rubbish by the roadside recently. It was grim. Beer bottles and cans, take-away cartons and unfinished meals, condoms and detritus that would make you gag. We collected a lorry-load, all of it thrown from cars passing through.

I wish they’d stop and talk. I’d give them Armitage’s poem, invite them to be “Unexpected Guests” next time they pass through. I’m sure it would require no more than that.

You can read Simon’s poem here: https://poetrysociety.org.uk/poems/an-unexpected-guest


First published in Swindon Link

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