‘Here we are today, standing in the dark shadows cast by the monuments […]’: Mark De’Lisser, Bath based poet, has composed a response to Bath Abbey’s ‘Monuments, Empire & Slavery’ exhibition

The Bath Abbey invited De’Lisser to compose the poem, which he has called ‘Dark Shadows’, as a response to the myriad links to slavery in the Abbey’s past.

After spending a considerable amount of time at the exhibition, and meeting the Abbey’s Learning Team, De’Lisser wrote the piece to ‘invite the audience to feel that discomfort, to re-examine our history and in turn begin to heal the deep wounds that still affect us today.”

The poem itself is a criss-cross of complex rhythms and internal rhymes. The performance, posted on Bath Abbey’s YouTube channel, shows a calm and collected De’Lisser, confident-eyed and arms wide, bringing to light the incomprehensible ‘atrocities committed for the expansion of the empire’.

This searing language is fitting to describe what The Revd Canon Guy Bridgewater, Rector of Bath Abbey, describes as ‘the hateful industry of human exploitation, whether by ignorant complicity or evil design, that certain of our 18th and 19th century memorials make evident’.

‘[…] It would be so easy to turn our heads and walk away but today we’ve decided to stay’, De’Lisser states towards the end of ‘Dark Shadows’. 

Further, in the poem, De’Lisser searches for ‘complete transparency’, stating that ‘if we truly believe in equality, then we must examine our past unflinchingly.’

To that effect, this poem is more than a response to just this exhibition.

‘Hopefully, this will inspire other institutions to do the same. In this way, we can begin to have open and truthful conversations about Britain’s colonial history’.

The poet ends his considered polemic with a message of powerful unity, ‘All of this is our responsibility, all of this is our shared history’.

“I am most grateful to the Abbey team who is leading this important work, and to our partners from University of West of England (UWE), Black in Bath Network, and the Bath Ethnic Minority Senior Citizens Association (BEMSCA) at Fairfield House who are helping us learn from a significant range of contemporary perspectives and multi-racial voices – with the goal of both learning from the past and working for a more just future for all.”

It is clear that, for De’Lisser, unity through honesty is the ultimate goal.

Check out De’Lisser’s official performance here: https://youtu.be/tLQPHiKYu50 
Or read ‘Dark Shadows’ here: https://www.bathabbey.org/anti-racism/.

Words by Jonathan R Parsonage