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Poems on the Underground

ISBN 0304350265 / 9780304350261 / 0-304-35026-5

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Book summary

"Poetry arrived/ in search of me" --Pablo Neruda

Launched in 1986 and now an established part of every London tube-traveller's experience, the Poems On The Underground project has proved a hugely successful attempt to introduce poetry into the city's public spaces and has since been taken up by many of the world's major cities as well as many smaller ones. Serendipitous and surprising, the encounter with poetry in the urban environment is often enlivening and provocative--a tribute to the enthusiasm of the editors.

This new edition, twice as long as its predecessor, is partly organised around the current programme "1,000 years of English Poetry" but also contains poems "exchanged" with those chosen in other countries; the book thus contains an enormous range of verse from around the world and from past to present day, finding a place for the witty and the profound alike, for light verse as well as the serious or gnomic, for the popular and the more obscure. Some poets are represented by their most well-known pieces--Shelley's Ozymandias, Auden's Song (made famous by its inclusion in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral)--others by less familiar but no less potent poems. The current project also exhumes wonderful examples of early and middle English verse, an indication of the long and vital tradition of British poetry. Hopefully, future editions will find room for more poems in translation and more modern American verse (surely the most vital space for modern poetry in English).

The almost haphazard nature of the selection--based on the principles of pleasure rather than dogma--result in a generous and happily democratic collection that is, paradoxically, a far stronger and more persuasive argument for the ongoing vitality of poetry than many more argumentative anthologies. The chance encounter with an affecting poem or unfamiliar poet is ample reason to invest in this book--where else would one find Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Betjeman, Paul Celan, Spike Milligan, Emily Dickinson and Guillaume Apollinaire sharing space together? Last words to Christopher Logue: "Last night in London Airport / I saw a wooden bin/ labelled UNWANTED LITERATURE / IS TO BE PLACED HEREIN./ So I wrote a poem/ and popped it in." No longer so unwanted, thanks to this book. --Burhan Tufail [via]