Silent Highway

A poem about the Thames by Anthony Howell, published Autumn 2014 by Anvil Press Poetry – now available from Carcanet.

Featuring Rutger Hauer as a sinister golf-loving cardinal, there’s an interesting film The Bankers of God  which goes deep into the Calvi affair and his being found below Blackfriars Bridge – an incident which inspired a section of this long poem which I recorded for The Poetry Archive.

From Part 4/1 – remembering the murder of Roberto Calvi and the tragedy of The Marchioness – which sank 20 August 1989

Launched with a huge array of cast-iron ornament,
Notably shields displaying the crest
Of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company,
Daubed in heraldic colours but declared
By the public a monstrosity, Blackfriars
Merged with the nearby bridge of Saint Paul’s.
The merger brought it pulpits and parapets.
Then on the 15th of June, 1982, four years after
The assassination of a rather decent pope,
The body of Roberto Calvi was found at the end of a rope
Beneath the granite arches of this bridge;
His hands tied behind his back,
His jacket pocket weighed down by a brick.
Blackfriars marks a corner of that square
Mile that keeps the city split off from the town.
Deeply involved in a fraudulent Vatican loan
Which led to the implosion of his banco,
Calvi fled to England carrying a portmanteau
Filled with ambrosial banknotes.  Banking on a deal
With Opus Dei, whereby they would acquire a
Holding in his bank by paying off the Mafia,
Calvi was obliged to bankroll Propaganda Due.
Bankrupt – and corrupted by its puppet-master, Gelli –
While frantically attempting to plug the gaping hole
In his bankbooks, he had agreed to launder
The drug engendered profits of the Corleone family.
He never laundered the money though.  Instead,
He “borrowed” it to keep his ship afloat.
Opus Dei reasoned that with Calvi dead,
The total collapse of his stocks would result
And this in turn dislodge their powerful
Enemies in the Curia, opening the way for them
To gain total dominance of the Vatican.
It was revealed by a Mafia informer
That Calvi had been strangled by the Mafia’s
London based heroin traffic manager.
Bridges are the sacred responsibility
Of the Whitefriars of Paris.  But this is the bridge
Of the masons, of the shadowy


Practitioners of corporate piracy, the mighty
Of the mercantile world; those who dictate
That Canary Wharf shall be shaped
Like an obelisk and that its shadow
Shall fall over Hawksmoor’s church
With the pyramid beside the gate at Limehouse.
Some say Captain Smith was a mason,
And so was Powhatan, who knew him
By some sign – and this saved Smith,
And it was nothing to do with Pocahontas!
In this reach, on an August night in 1989,
Two hundred young people were partying
Aboard that tidy pleasure boat, the Marchioness

Silent Highway Anvil

  • Paperback:96 pages  £7.66
  • Publisher:Anvil Press Poetry (28 October 2014) now available through Carcanet here.
  • ISBN-10:085646452X
  • ISBN-13:978-0856464522
  • Product Dimensions:6 x 13.8 x 0.8 cm

Reviews here                                                                  Order here 

The centrepiece of ‘Silent Highway’ is the title-poem which celebrates the role of the river Thames in the life of London. It is written as a sequence that looks at history and the present: from Pocahontas’s voyage to the arrival of the ‘Windrush’ bringing immigrants from Jamaica, the mysterious death of Roberto Calvi and the ‘Marchioness’ disaster, via the Fire of London and many incidents in which the river has been spectator or participant.

Howell’s mix of verse styles and skill with cameos ensures that interest never flags. In other poems he demonstrates his pleasure in avoiding the predictable and in writing on a wide variety of subjects. Among the many poems of place, in which he excels, are some disturbing descriptions of modern Britain; in the final section, poems inspired by a winter spent in Brazil, he has surprises in store, such as the witty (and true) poem ‘In Praise of Shopping’.


Anthony Howell is a poet and novelist whose first collection of poems, Inside the Castle was published in 1969.  In 1973 he was invited to join the Programme for International Writers at the University of Iowa.  In 1986 his novel In the Company of Others was published by Marion Boyars.  His Selected Poems have been published by Anvil, and his Analysis of Performance Art is published by Routledge.  His novel Oblivion has been brought out by Grey Suit Editions.  His articles on visual art, dance, performance and poetry have appeared in many journals and magazines including Artscribe, Art Monthly, The London Magazine, Harpers & Queen and The Times Literary Supplement.  In 1997 he was short-listed for a Paul Hamlyn Award for his poetry. 

A former dancer with the Royal Ballet, Anthony Howell was founder and director of The Theatre of Mistakes, which created notable performances worldwide in the seventies and eighties – Cambridge Poetry Festival, Serpentine Gallery, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Hayward Gallery, Biennale de Paris.  Between 1978 and 1981 there were further performances in Canada and Europe, at the Paula Cooper Gallery and the Theatre for the New City in New York, as well as at Pittsburgh State Penitentiary, followed by the Cochrane Theatre in London and the Sydney Biennale.  He is currently curating The Room, a space for the arts in Tottenham, and performing Tango Schumann, a fusion of tango and classical music. 

His performance Table Moves at The Tate was described by Stewart Lee in the Observer as “The best performance I have ever seen.” (Observer 17 Oct 2010)

About anthonyhowelljournal

Poet, essayist, dancer, performance artist....
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