Anyone who travels on London Underground will be familiar with the poems which appear over the heads of passengers in the advertising frames. The project began back in 1986 when Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert persuaded London Underground to post poems on their trains and then to double the number of spaces for which they obtained funding.
Since then countless passengers have founds solace and amusement by reading these short poems. The project has been so successful that it has inspired similar projects in Dublin, Adelaide, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Stuttgart, Sydney, Barcelona, Athens, Moscow, St Petersburg and Shanghai (source: Booktrust).
Today sees the publication of a completely new edition of Poems on the Underground: A New Edition containing 230 poems, beautifully presented in an attactive binding, the cover design being based on the moquette fabric used on the seats of tube trains. The book is timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the London Underground on 9th January 2013.
The book is organised into sixteen sections with titles such as Love, London, Exile and Loss, Seasons, Families. Each one contains a dozen or so poems from poets ancient and modern. Shakespeare and Donne feature, but so so poets I have barely heard of from lands far and wide. Each poem occupies a whole page, occasionally two, giving lots of white space around each one, just as they are seen on the undergrounds posters. The titles catch the eye -
- If Bach Had Been a Beekeeper
- Concerto for Double Bass
- I am Becoming My Mother
- Optimistic Little Poem
Generally they are short, typically 12 or 16 lines, some less while others managing to squeeze four verses onto the page - the idea being of course that if you got on a tube train at Earls Court you could get off at South Kensington with a few sparse thoughts ringing through your head. This makes it an ideal book to dip into. Few people would sees this book lying around and not be tempted to quickly browse through and find a morsel of verse that meant something to them at that moment.
The London Underground has a fascination all of its own and Poems on the Underground captures some of the flavour of tube travel while saving you from actually having to experience the noise and crush which so often accompanies it. It is a perfect gift for poets, Londoners and anyone who has seen these little poems above the heads of the people sitting opposite them and found a tranquil moment or two.