Poetry Archive Now Wordview 2021: The Rats of 214 Oxford Street

i.m. Big Topshop (1994 -2021)


It was always so tricky in that building.

Handy for harbourage and every convenience,

but it was the noise – those blasted DJs

spinning house from 10 till 10

and later on launch nights, and even then

there was no peace: cleaners, stockists, visual

merchandisers fussing till first tube,

which was why, from Britpop to Brexit,

they huddled in cavity walls and ceilings,

breeding and feeding and hiding and thieving

till everything stopped overnight.

Everyone just vanished

and they couldn’t put their claws on why.

Still, the quiet flushed them out

to this six-tier explosion of suedette,

neon and impossibly chiselled mannequins,

which were first to get weed on.

They ratted the hair salon

on the lower ground floor;

dip-dyed their whiskers; span round

in barber chairs; sugared their ratty brows.

Across the way, they raticured nails

in rose-gold and mint,

left trails as they skittered the stairs.

In menswear, they savaged

spray-on jeans, took one leg per tail,

got grillz for their front incisors.

The stupid ones pierced their tongues.

Word got round, and as the bins

on Oxford Street emptied, neighbours

all the way to Regent Street Cinema

joined the throngs of Rattus Fashionistus

gnawing cute tubs of frosting,

tapioca bubbles and endless racks of leather.

This was the flagship of all ratships:

ninety-thousand square feet of overconsumption,

feasting on the fabric of slave labour

and falling apart at the seams.

Conditions became unsanitary,

the building unsafe

and Boss Rat scuttled off with their pensions.

Yet on they gnawed and writhed

and chewed through straps and shoes,

fabrics, manbags,

crazed and ravenous, unable to stop,

unwilling, spilling through doors, windows, floors,

to Bond Street, South Molton,

Mayfair, the sewers below

Poem recorded as part of Poetry Archive Now: Wordview 2021. Used by permission of author.

Poetry Archive Now Wordview 2021 Winners

Poetry Archive Now! was established in 2020 to enable us to gather recordings from a much wider pool of talented poets from the UK and ...

See the collection

Iain Whiteley

I'm a newly-published poet with three poems in January 2021's The North magazine, followed by a first collection, 'Ping!', published by Write Bloody UK in May. 'Ping!' covers many 21st-century phenomena, including terrorism, oat milk, lying politicians, Brexit – and this poem, about the closure of "Big Topshop" on Oxford Street in London. 'Ping!' was recently long-listed for The Poetry Book Awards for indies and small presses.


A special thank you to our WordView 2021 poets.

Chair of the Judging Panel, Imtiaz Dharker, says: "An idea that began as a response to the world shutting down has, joyfully, become a way to invite the whole world in. It has been exciting to see the entries come in from different countries, from marginalised voices, from people of all backgrounds who now know this space belongs to them. My fellow judges and I were struck by the immediacy of experience and commitment to language in the winning entries. It's also good to think that the rest of the entries will continue to be seen as an invaluable record of our times."

See the collectionWatch the full Wordview 2021 playlist