Poems on the Underground

Poetry on the Underground book

Poems on the Underground was launched in 1986, following an idea from the American writer Judith Chernaik, to bring poetry to a wider audience.

The programme helps to make journeys more stimulating and inspiring by showcasing a range of poetry in Tube train carriages across London. The poems are selected by Judith Chernaik and poets George Szirtes and Imtiaz Dharker.

Poems on the Underground highlights classical, contemporary and international work, by both famous and relatively unknown poets. It has been a great success and has inspired similar schemes in cities around the world, from New York to Shanghai. It's proved to be a great way of introducing the public to poetry, with passengers often wanting to read more.

The scheme is supported by TfL, Arts Council England and The British Council.

Poems on the Underground (Penguin, 2015) contains over 200 poems featured on the Tube and is available from the London Transport Museum shop and all good bookshops.

The third series of poems for 2023 is now on trains.

Among the poets featured is Seamus Heaney, who wrote 'In A Loaning' while he was recovering from a stroke. The word 'loaning' is an Ulster-Scots term for a lane. Garous Abdolmalekian is an Iranian poet who is the recipient of the Karnameh Poetry Book of the Year Award and the Iranian Youth Poetry Book Prize. Anthony Joseph, the 2023 winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, is a Trinidad-born poet, novelist, academic and musician. Helen Ivory is a poet and visual artist, the author of five books of poetry, most recently The Anatomical Venus.

Karl Shapiro and Charles Simic - both winners of the Pulitzer prize for poetry - have written poetry about their experiences during war. Shapiro served with the American military in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War, while Simic was a child in Serbia during the Second World War.

The poems are:

Seamus Heaney, 'In a Loaning'

Garous Abdolmalekian 'Long Exposure' Translated from Persian
by Idra Novey and Ahmad Nadalizadeh

Anthony Joseph, 'Axe'

Helen Ivory, 'The Square of the Clockmaker'

Charles Simic, 'Empires'

Karl Shapiro, excerpt from 'Elegy for a Dead Soldier'

The Square of the Clockmaker
by Helen Ivory

When the last train left,
the tunnel rolled the train track
back into its mouth and slept.
Clocks unhitched themselves
from the made-up world of timetables
and opened wide their arms.
And in the square of the clockmaker
a century of clocks
turned their faces to the sun.