Bristol celebrates 17 year old poet 250 years after his death

By April 5, 2020News, Poetry

Thomas Chatterton is being celebrated in his home city 250 years after his death.

Bristol-born Thomas Chatterton, who sadly died when he was only 17, is the subject of a series of projects this year, named A Poetic City, intended to remind people of his extraordinary life, and inspire a new generation of poets.

New poetry has been commissioned, inspired by the deathbed painting by Henry Wallis of the young poet which currently hangs in Tate Britain, London. There is also a comic book relating his life story, and a competition will be held to design a new Bristol monument dedicated to him.

Andrew Kelly, director of the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership, said one of the main aims of ‘A Poetic City’ was simply to raise awareness of the poet in his home city of Bristol.

“Despite his accolade by some as the father of Romantic poetry, and the centuries of fascination that he’s held for poets, artists and musicians, he’s largely unknown in his home city,” said Kelly.

Thomas Chatterton was born in November, 1752. As an only child he spent many hours reading and writing at a local Bristol church. It clearly inspired his writing as he conjured up a persona of a 15th century monk, Thomas Rowley, and produced poems, maps, letters, and even business accounts all in his imaginary character’s name.

There is a mystery surrounding Chatterton’s death in August 1770 as it has been previously believed that he took his own life, but recent academics have come to believe it was an accident.

“His story raises more themes including artistic credulity and credibility, the role of the fake in art, young artists, arts and mental health, and the nature of celebrity. At the time they were writing, Britain was moving towards industrialisation,” said Kelly. “They liked the fact that he looked back to the medieval period, writing under the guise of Thomas Rowley.

“They were influenced by his politics. He was very radical, against the slave trade and kicking against the establishment. There was also the doomed romanticism – his supposed suicide, though the opinion now is that it was accident rather than suicide.”

As well as gazing at the past, the projects from A Poetic City will touch on issues and subjects relevant to today such as young people and mental health, and fake news- all of which Chatterton would have also been affected by.

A competition is to be held to design a new monument dedicated to Chatterton which will hopefully be erected within a few years.

Alongside the statue, comic book, and discussion, will be a collection of poems by 12 contemporary writers compiled in a book and read in public.

Danny Pandolfi, a director of the Lyra Poetry Festival, which has commissioned the work, said: “Chatterton is not someone who is massively talked about or celebrated. He should be.”

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