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This article is taken from PN Review 263, Volume 48 Number 3, January - February 2022.

Last Thoughts on Thirty-Five Years of Poems on the Underground Judith Chernaik

Poems on the Underground went live on London’s tube cars in 1986 – which means that we reached our thirty-fifth year in 2021. But what an age away it seems, with London barely recovering from lockdown, borders to Europe and the rest of the world in chaos, pundits and politicians alike baffled by the new reality. The folly of Brexit seems a minor hiccup in the larger global catastrophe.

Still, poetry survives, a witness to times past and present. It is a quiet pleasure to know that we’ve contributed to its wider circulation. The project has changed with the years. Gerard Benson died in 2014, and Cicely has stepped back. I’ve been joined as co-editors by Imtiaz Dharker and George Szirtes, who have added their own special passions to our choice of poems. We continue to enjoy the support of London Underground, as well as the general public, and, above all, the poets featured on the tube.

When we were paused on the tube, in the first London lockdown, we set up a website (www.poemsontheunderground.org) featuring our original posters in digitised form, with poems added each month. Over a year later, the website is turning into an archive of all our posters from the first set onward, reaching eventually a total of more than 600 poems.

As I’m cast back to our beginnings, I feel quite nostalgic about the origin of a simple project which has reached world fame. I was young then, in my 40s, as were my friends ...


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