Inspired by the examples of Stewart (1996) and Weston (2009), this article is an experiment in narrative form. It portrays the 'cultural poetics' (Stewart 1996) of lives lived in and through experiences of poverty in contemporary London and considers the potential of long-term participant-observation fieldwork, and the development of relations of mutual obligation in the field, to create a collaborative anthropology defined by a politics of mutually transformative action. The article enters into debate about the effects of changing structural inequalities, which differentially impact on the post-industrial urban neighbourhoods of the U.S.A., the U.K. and Europe (Waquant 2008; 2012). Waquant's work is taken to be a rallying cry for Europe and the U.K. to wake up from the American Dream of neo-liberalism. The 'utt er desolation' (Waquant 2012: 66) of life in the worst of the U.S.A.'s post-industrial urban housing projects and, to an extent, in France, demands a reaction from and suggests (especially post-August 2011 riots), that the time is now to debate how to prevent further deterioration in British cities. The article should be read as two parts in conversation with each other. The first section is an experiment in narrative form and hence the reader is asked to bear with and consider the fruitfulness of the departure from conventional scholarly form. In the second part of the article academic insight is drawn out in more standardized form, with a more usual engagement with literature, highlighting of relevant points and movement towards the formation of argument. © Berghahn Books and the Association for Anthropology in Action.