Cenotaph South: Mapping the Lost Poets of Nunhead Cemetery (Hardback)

Chris McCabe


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Step through the iron gates of one of London’s most spectacular Victorian cemeteries on the hunt for the lost poets of Nunhead.

Literary investigator Chris McCabe pushes back the tangled ivy and hacks his way through the poetic history of south-east London, revealing a map of intense artistic activity with Nunhead at its heart: from Charlotte Mew in Nunhead and Barry MacSweeney in Dulwich to Robert Browning and William Blake in Peckham.

Join McCabe on a journey back in time along underground rivers, through Elizabethan villages and urban woodland. Discover the surprising lives and lines of writers neglected amongst the moss-covered monuments of Nunhead Cemetery: from the ‘Laureate of the Babies’ and a New Zealander soldier-poet to those who chronicled London at the height of her industrial powers. But this is also a personal journey that highlights poetry’s force in overcoming trauma; McCabe’s exploration of Nunhead Cemetery is interwoven with diary entries that document his mother’s illness.

In this latest instalment in an ambitious project to plot the dead poets of the Magnificent Seven – London’s great Victorian cemeteries – McCabe drills deep into the psyche of the city, and into his own past. Encounters with the dead and forgotten are charted in sinuous prose and with a wry humour that belies his meticulous research. Cenotaph South offers a powerful meditation on art, writing, memory and community, confirming McCabe as contemporary poetry’s most innovative thinker. This is essential reading for anyone who has ever wondered what lies behind the canon, or beyond the cemetery gates.


Praise for the author

Fine, achieved work, close-woven, elusive, engaged.

Iain Sinclair on In the Catacombs

A book to buy, to read and re-read, and to keep. It will challenge and educate you in some forgotten corners of English literature, as well as giving new insights into the work of some of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century.

The Norwood Review on In the Catacombs

Breathtaking verse.

Jeremy Noel-Tod, The Sunday Times on Speculatrix

Deliriously anachronistic … One of the most original contributions to British poetry in quite some time.

Dai George, Ambit on Speculatrix


The author gratefully acknowledges financial support from Arts Council England.

Cenotaph South: Mapping the Lost Poets of Nunhead Cemetery (Hardback)

Cover design by Ben Anslow

ISBN 9781908058409
Published 1 November 2016
Pages 360
RRP £12.99

Filed under Books, Chris McCabe, Essays & Criticism


Presented with beautiful prose and a poetic heart

Londonist on In the Catacombs

About the author

Chris McCabe

Chris McCabe was born in Liverpool and has written extensively about London. He was shortlisted for the 2013 Ted Hughes Award and has published four collections of poetry, the latest of which is the highly praised Speculatrix (Penned in the Margins, 2014). His prose books include In the Catacombs: A Summer Among the Dead Poets of West Norwood Cemetery (Penned in the Margins, 2014) and Real South Bank (Seren, 2016). His work has been described by The Guardian as ‘an impressively inventive survey of English in the early 21st century’.