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This review is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

CENTRAL LINES 100 Poems on the Underground, edited by Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert (Cassell) £4.99
Beneath the Wide Wide Heaven, edited by Sara Dunn with Alan Scholefield (Virago) £7.99
The Poetry Book Society Anthology 2, edited by Anne Stevenson (Hutchinson) £6.99
The New Lake Poets, edited by William Scammell (Bloodaxe) £7.95
The Jazz Poetry Anthology, edited by Sascha Feinstein and Yusef Komunyakaa (Indiana U.P./Open University Press) £27.50, £10.50 pb
American Poetry: An Introductory Anthology, edited by Donald Hall (Faber) £5.99
100 Poems by 100 Poets edited by Harold Pinter, Geoffrey Godbert and Anthony Astbury (Faber/Greville) £7.99

When, early in 1986, poems began to sprout among the weary advertisements on the Tube, it was easy to reach for a sceptical response: here, it seemed, was a bunch of benign cranks asserting that Poetry was Good for You, like Guinness used to be. The whole scheme might have been both patronizing and anachronistic: doesn't any poem demand precisely the quiet attention which the strap-hanger lacks? And weren't there moments in the traveller's life when a poem beginning 'Rain on lilac leaves' or 'Now sleeps the crimson petal' might just prove to be the final trigger for civic violence?

In fact, from the start, there was a wryly subversive edge to the selections: the first batch included 'Cauld blaws the wind frae east to west' and 'I met a traveller from an antique land', both common experiences on station platforms; while, later on, 'I have a gentil cock' must have caused more than one double-take on the Piccadilly Line. To notice such things is to affirm one aspect of the project's success: the unlikely context does prompt the reader to look twice, to pick up new and possibly absurd resonances in familiar poems - and of course to be startled by unfamiliar ones. Something of that freshness is carried over into this attractively-produced anthology, a book of happy juxtapositions which is rightly pleased with itself. The 'Poems on the Underground' project seems to have tapped into the same by no means uninformed interest in poetry which ...


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