Poems on the Underground

The Poetry Society and Poems on the Underground join forces to promote one of Britain’s most successful public art projects. As well as being displayed on underground trains throughout the capital, school members of The Poetry Society receive a set of Poems on the Underground posters each time they are released.

Poems are selected by Judith Chernaik, Cicely Herbert and Imtiaz Dharker, who has recently joined the project. The posters are designed by Tom Davidson, and the project is generously supported by London Underground (TfL), Arts Council England and the British Council.

Individual posters, or sets of posters, are available through the Poetry Society shop: we ask for £3.50 for an individual poster or £9.99 for a set in order to cover the storage, handling, UK postage and packing costs. If you live overseas, the charge will increase in order to cover additional postage costs.  You can also find them at the London Transport Museum.

A free leaflet of ’30 Poems for 30 Years’, published in celebration of Poems on the Underground’s
30 years, is available from London Transport Museum and selected tube stations.

Poems on the Underground (Penguin 2015) is available in paperback from all good bookshops.

Indian Poems on the Underground (Set 97)

Six Indian Poems on the Underground go live on London tube trains on August 14th for four weeks, marking 70 years since India and Pakistan’s independence. The distinguished contemporary Indian poets featured represent a broad range of voices from the Indian subcontinent and the huge Indian diaspora. Three poems – Pilgrim, This Morning, and Approaching Fifty – include illustrations taken from David Gentleman’s India, by kind permission of David Gentleman.

The Indian Poems on the Underground also form a part of the British Council’s UK/India 2017, a year-long celebration of the long-standing relationship between India and the UK, which sees a programme of cultural exchange and activity take place in cities across both countries. We are grateful to the British Council for supporting Poems on the Underground since the programme began in 1986. 

The poems:

Pilgrim by Eunice de Souza (1940-2017) is a lyrical, personal poem which in a few vivid lines encapsulates the heartbreaking contrasts between India past and present. De Souza, one of the most distinguished and original poets of her generation, taught at St Xavier’s College in Bombay, where she was an inspiration to many students and young poets. She died this summer on July 29th, mourned by students and colleagues, poets and poetry-lovers across India and beyond. 

This Morning by Mona Arshi, the youngest poet featured, is a London child’s perception of her Indian mother’s very different world.  Mona Arshi was born in 1970 to Punjabi Sikh parents in West London and grew up in Hounslow. She worked for a decade as a lawyer for the human rights charity Liberty UK.  Her book Small Hands won the Forward Prize for best First Collection.

Today by Sujata Bhatt evokes the international world of an Indian in exile. Sujata Bhatt was born in 1956 in Ahmedabad, India, grew up in Pune and emigrated with her family to the United States when she was 12. She currently lives with her husband and daughter in Bremen, Germany. She has translated from Gujarati and German into English, and her own prize-winning poems have been translated into more than twenty languages.

The Butterfly by Arun Kolatkar (1932-2004) is a deceptively simple ode to “a little yellow butterfly.”  Arun Kolatkar was a popular bilingual poet who wrote in English and in Marathi; he knew Sanskrit and drew on Western literary traditions, including Black American music and speech. He made poetry out of the patois spoken in the back streets of Bombay, the city in which he lived and worked. 

Approaching Fifty by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, could be about the stages of a man’s life at any time, in any country. Mehrotra was born in 1947 in Lahore, the year of India’s independence, when Lahore became part of the new country of Pakistan. He is a major figure in Indian poetry, with three collections and an influential anthology of Indian poetry published by Oxford University Press.

Stationery by Agha Shahid Ali is a poem which hints at non-Western myth, geography and history, in imagery which is vividly contemporary. Ali was born in 1949 in Srinagar, Kashmir; he moved to the United States as a “triple exile,” with ties to Muslim, Hindu and European culture. These triple strands all figure in his poems, elegies for the past, witnesses to the present. He taught in India and the United States and died in 2001 in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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