For over thirty years, if you have been travelling on a London tube train, you might have been lucky enough to sit opposite not just an advertisement but a poem. 'Poems on the Underground' was the idea of the writers, Judith Chernaik, Cicely Herbert and Gerard Benson and was launched in 1986.
The concept was for them to select a number of poems, from classical to contemporary, by the famous to the unknown, from all around the world, and to have them displayed in London Underground carriages in the position usually reserved for adverts. A great spot for the poems to be dwelt on by a vast number of travellers, many (most?) of whom would otherwise probably not read a poem from one year to the next.
The idea has proven extremely popular and over the years many sets of poems have been compiled and for many years have also been available as books. Copies of the individual posters can also be bought from The Poetry Society.
Travelling on the tube quite often, and not having seen a poem there for what seemed like ages, I was beginning to fear that the idea had been dropped in favour of a few more ads for app based services. But, hooray, three days ago, on my way from Kings Cross to Paddington, there was a four line, little gem of a poem by Grace Nichols - Epilogue. We were back in business. Keep a look out for that and others - if you're a tube traveller.
I always felt a twinge of disappointment if ever I was on the Underground but could find no poem. I began to wonder if having poems in that advertising space actually made me look at the adverts themselves in a slightly different way; start to appreciate the intentions and methods behind them and, even if what they were pushing was crass and of no conceivable use to me, find some oblique comments on our society. And I wrote this poem -