Poetry in the park
06 May 2021
How did a member of Deutsche Bank’s operations team get to be appointed Poet in Residence at one of London’s iconic cemeteries? flow hears from Dave Brooks, better known to his readers as Nelson Brooks, about how his verses raised money for charity during the pandemic
In the novel Rules for a Born Again Bachelor, the protagonist – a London-based middle-aged man named Adam – finds himself newly single after a divorce and takes the reader on a personal Odyssey of his life and dating experiences.
The Amazon listing from 2016 explains that the author, one Nelson Brooks, “draws upon his experience of living and working in the City of London”. Upon further investigation, it appears that Brooks has been writing poetry as well as fiction. He has penned more than 3,500 poems and recently completed his tenure as Poet in Residence of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (2018-2021).
Why is this relevant to Deutsche Bank? Because Nelson Brooks is a nom de plume for our very own Dave Brooks, who joined the Bank as a contractor in 2015, becoming a permanent member of the procurement team in 2017 with a commercial contract and supply relationship management remit. “By becoming permanent, I could resume my love of life-long learning, mentoring and corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities,” Brooks told flow.
As the Bank moves forward with embedding ESG principles into its client products and services, examples of the ‘S’ for Social element of ESG in action include its volunteering and giving schemes. Employees are encouraged to participate in education, enterprise and community projects – because volunteering not only boosts the impact of the Bank’s CSR programmes but has had a positive impact on the personal development, motivation and loyalty of staff. Volunteering is incentivised through a paid leave scheme, and in 2020 (despite the pandemic) the Bank supported 13,000 employees in various projects.
No shop window
Dave Brooks is among the Bank’s most passionate volunteers. In his view, business to consumer (B2C) organisations, “have a shop window” in which to demonstrate their ESG alignment; something not available to business to business (B2B) entities such as corporate banks.
“Our ESG efforts can often remain invisible and although it is not all about publicity, it is also important that our own staff here at Deutsche Bank know the effort that goes into them,” he reflects. Initiatives such as encouraging employees to become school governors and get involved in numeracy and literacy projects in deprived communities have benefited both employees and the recipients of their time over the years. The Bank gives every employee the opportunity to volunteer for two days a year for agreed projects.
Deutsche Bank PlusMe Volunteers at the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park garden maintenance day (2017)
One particular project in the UK was a clean-up and conservation session at London’s Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. Declared a local nature reserve in 2000, this 31-acre area of broad leaf woodland can be found in East London, enclosed in a 19th century cemetery, surrounding by densely populated tower blocks and housing estates. It has a huge variety of flora and fauna.
When Deutsche Bank put forward the opportunity for a garden maintenance volunteering day in 2017, Dave jumped at the opportunity – a week into his full-time appointment. He had been to the cemetery before – this particular open space having been written into the text of Rules for a born again bachelor as where Misty the German shepherd dog is taken for walks. The dog’s appearance was the result of a research weekend in 2015, during which Dave/Nelson stumbled across an open day arranged by The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (a registered charity).
Poet in Residence
Dave’s ongoing interest in the park has blossomed ever since. After a day of clearing the brambles and nettles, he found himself wondering what it might be like to celebrate this extraordinary oasis in a series of poems across the year through the role of Poet in Residence. He began discussions with the charity and was installed in the role three months later.
Initially 12 poems were commissioned to celebrate and explore the many facets of this unique resource to the residents of Tower Hamlets. The subject material was as diverse as the species of plant or the variety of butterfly, and, he explains, “speak of nature, history, remembrance and community, but mostly they are my personal reflections on a place I have grown to love”.
From 2018-2021 Dave/Nelson produced bespoke poems for the park and also got involved with running poetry workshops in the community, and organising poetry walks in the park to raise funds for the charity. However, by March 2020 the pandemic had hit hard, as the charity received most of its funds from events which were now cancelled. Undeterred, Brooks gave poetry readings online – helping the charity recover some of the lost funding.
The Poet in Residence at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park
In February 2021 he gave his swansong performance on Zoom as he handed over the Residency to three new artists, but the story is not quite over. Seeing an opportunity to raise further funds, Dave arranged three years of poems into an anthology, with the book now available on Amazon – all the proceeds go to the charity.1
Dave returns to the tangible benefits of getting stuck into CSR-related activities. “CSR allows us to engage with the community not just for one day, but for longer term projects where the beneficiaries get to know us as human beings. Second, these activities allow staff to grow, acquire new skills and even to find they fulfil deeper needs for mental and social fulfilment that their day job alone does not always provide.”
However there is a small problem; the expert succession planning has rendered him a poet without a residency. Although a third novel is planned for 2021 (The Perry Gene followed his debut in January 2020), he would still love a further challenge and asks “If you know a community project, that might gain some well needed publicity in a novel way (excuse the pun), please let me know, as the poetry keeps flowing.”
More about Nelson Brooks can be found here.
It is not all that get to write their swansong,
to chisel fine words, upon a virtual gravestone,
listening to all those nice things people say,
after the event, behind closed doors
as the body slides softly into the earth below,
yet here am I, penning poesy still nice and cozy
above ground, in a spot lit, twenty first century garret.
I shall list the things I will miss,
the pressure once a month to hit a brief,
though it was fun really, and such relief
when finally, binary flew across the Ethernet,
and my clients were satisfied, accuracy corrected,
the species inspected within the lines of lyrics,
words without music, singing songs to nature.
With more minutes on the clock, what was next?
would epic tomes of towering heroes have graced the page,
gentle epistles to flowers and thistles or would I rage
at the demise of the light from freshly minted flats,
the bats struggling to find homes, as the city closes in,
where would I begin to even scratch the surface?
No, the time has come and the time is right.
There are shoes to fill and new voices to hear,
echoing like laughing children from the toppled tombs,
they will discover, the wonder and awe I did before,
there is a tear or two, but memory will flood back to me,
when I consider all those couplets penned,
and the countless friends made along the path,
this, in the end is my epitaph.
Source: Built on Stones: Poetry Anthology by Poet in Residence, Nelson Brooks