Brutal inspiration: why poets are writing about Coventry’s ring road

Encircling an eccentric city centre where medieval streets meet the modern world, this hulking piece of 1970s infrastructure is the subject of 27 poetry films celebrating its bizarre concrete beauty

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The ring road is a monument to postwar planning
The ring road is a monument to postwar planning / © Jack Norris & Cathy Galvin

The urban landscape has long set literary imaginations on fire – but a ring road may not spring to mind as an obvious source of poetic inspiration. In Coventry, however, the overt orbicular oddness of the ring road and its nine junctions, each elbowing the city, has been celebrated in a collaborative homage to concrete and tarmac by nine poets and nine film-makers.

“The ring road reminds me of a huge creature,” mulls Leanne Bridgewater, one of the poets involved in the Disappear Here project, dreamt up by local artist Adam Steiner. “The ring road has a great presence, not dissimilar to the old city walls,” reflects Steiner, “but driving on it reminds me of Scalextric!” The roller-coaster qualities of driving the road are legendary – you can complete the circuit in five minutes.

The story of postwar planning in the UK is often one of false starts and half finishes. Coventry is one of the few places actually followed through, with its new city centre and ring road completed in 1974. Seen from above, the city is as pleasingly circular as a dart board. But you’d have to be a sober shot to hit the bullseye – as its equally circular ring road is tightly drawn around the city centre, creating a remarkable urban landscape.

Within that tight circle lies one of the most architecturally fascinating city centres in Britain, where medieval streets meet the modern world. The mild modernism of Coventry’s immediate postwar rebuild has much in common with cities that suffered similar fiery fates, such as Essen and Rotterdam. […]