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This review is taken from PN Review 212, Volume 39 Number 6, July - August 2013.

O City City London: A History in Verse, edited by Mark Ford (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press) £25

Mark Ford’s enthralling anthology of poetry about London weighs in at over 700 pages. It is a serious attempt to present London’s history from the times of Chaucer, Gower and Lydgate through the poems composed by these and later writers, with generous selections by Wyatt and Surrey, Shakespeare, Jonson and Donne, Herrick, Marvell and Rochester, and on to our own times. The earlier poets are represented mainly through long extracts, followed by many complete poems as we approach the present day, with Swift and Pope, Blake’s ‘London’ and Wordsworth’s ‘On Westminster Bridge’, Tennyson, the Brownings and Hardy, the Georgians, the modernists. The canon is present in dazzling array, but there are also nursery rhymes, a sprinkling of light verse, and several unfamiliar names, including many women writers.
I must admit to a special interest in the anthology, since Poems on the Underground has been asked to feature London poems throughout 2013 in celebration of the Tube’s 150th anniversary. Over the years we’ve acquired several collections of London poems, usually slim paperbacks. My favourites are Christopher Logue’s delightful London in Verse, which includes children’s rhyming games and churchyard epitaphs; and Kenneth Baker’s London Lines: The Places and Faces of London in Poetry & Song, with familiar verses by Noel Coward, Ewan MacColl and Albert Chevalier, all absent from London: A History in Verse. Yet music-hall and folksong are as much part of London’s history as Edward Lear’s limericks on Old and Young Persons of various London boroughs, ...

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