It's verse Underground
This month, London tube travellers can look forward to a celebration of voices from five continents.
THE English poet is never tired of describing the changing seasons of the year. His best songs are reserved for ripe summer. Just listen to these familiar lines from a junior anthology:
June brings tulips, lilies, roses,
Fills the children's hands
Hot July brings cooling showers,
Apricots and gilly flowers.
Visitors to London in June-July 2002 can look forward to additional underground delights as well. For during this period, the city's enormously popular Poems on the Underground project (now 16 years old) displays nine poems from the Commonwealth nations, in 2,000 London subway train carriages.
Writer Judith Chernaik and poets Gerard Benson and Cicely Herbert who run this poetry programme on the Tube, tell you that this particular series is a celebration of distinctive voices from the five continents. We know that their multicultural megapolis is perfectly suited to respond to those varying tones. In fact, isn't London a pluralistic world in itself?
The presentation of these poems from Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Nigeria, Malawi, Trinidad, Grenada as also Pakistan and India, is supported by Visiting Arts, the Foreign Commonwealth Office, London Arts and the British Council. Despite their cultural specificities of space and clime, the verses reveal common concerns in interpreting landscape, language and history. They are preoccupied with conditions of exile and emigration.
If "Viv" (for cricketer Vivian Richards) by Faustin Charles has a subject that touches a chord in citizens of the Commonwealth nations, "Indian Cooking" by Moniza Alvi from Pakistan intrigues by the choice of adjective in the title. To juxtapose the lines of the Nigerian and Indian is to realise in a new context how external structures and textures can imprint images of echoic power on the subconscious.
running splash of rust
and gold flung and scattered
among seven hills like
broken china in the sun.
The architecture of an aunt
Made the child dream of cupolas,
Domes, other smoothly rondured
Geometries troubled his sleep.
The architecture of young women
Mildly obsessed the young man:
Its globosity, firmness, texture,
Lace cobwebs for adornment and
Miles from his aunt, the old child
Watched domes and cupolas
In a hundred countries, as time
A thousand kilometres of lace
And much gleaming and perfect
Flaming in the fields with no
Posters of these poems are on sale at the Poetry Society and the Transport Museum in Covent Garden, while the yearly reprints of the bestseller anthology Poems on the Underground (Cassell) should be available in bookshops on Oxford Street and Charing Cross. But for those of us who cannot actually travel on the London tube this summer, the poems are still accessible on websites:
(www.thetube.com and www.poetrysociety.org.uk).
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