TfL brings live poetry readings to Covent Garden station

31 May 2024
"We know our customers love to read the poems featured on our trains, so these special live readings at Covent Garden station with leading poets will be a huge hit with visitors and commuters on the day"
  • Writer and poet, Nii Ayikwei Parkes will read his poem, 'By Yourself Boy… (1988-2007)'
  • Imtiaz Dharker, co-director of Poems on the Underground will read her poem, 'Carving'
  • Six new poems will feature on the Tube, Overground and Elizabeth line by poets including Benjamin Zephaniah and Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Transport for London (TfL) brings live poetry readings to Covent Garden station on Monday 3 June, to mark six new poems to be featured on Underground, Overground and Elizabeth line trains this summer.

Writer and poet, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, will read his poem, 'By Yourself Boy… (1988-2007)' and Imtiaz Dharker, co-director of Poems on the Underground will read her poem, 'Carving' at 11:30 outside the front of the station.

Parkes' poem is one of six poems selected by Poems on the Underground for this summer:

By Yourself, Boy. . . (1988-2007)

Nat King Cole's on the TV staring hard at his audience,

his hands setting up plays while he sings.  Ray Charles

said he sang so damn well people forgot how good he was

on keys, and I see it now; his right hand stuffs a melody

down the grand piano's throat - that's the fake - he dribbles

the sound down to low notes until you expect the left hand

to come in lower. That's when he breaks mould, hustles

his left hand over the right, throws high notes into your ear

-crossover, up, swish. Now the trash talk it's better to be

by yourself boy… He smiles like the silent men on my tapes

and, suddenly, every move has a name, a sound, a history.

Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Later this month, trains on the Tube, Overground and Elizabeth line networks will feature a new selection of works with Poems on the Underground. The 117th collection of poems to be published explores themes of music and seasons - reflecting the diversity of human experience. A poem from the 13th century sits alongside more contemporary poems from Azita Ghahreman, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Don Paterson.

Mark Evers, TfL's Chief Customer Officer, said: 

'We know our customers love to read the poems featured on our trains, so these special live readings at Covent Garden station with leading poets will be a huge hit with visitors and commuters on the day. Poems on the Underground has been delighting and inspiring customers travelling for almost 40 years, and we hope our customers enjoy the latest set of poems launching on our network this summer.'

Poet Nii Ayikwei Parkes, said: 

'Having grown up in a West African culture that values community, it is always an unparalleled honour when my poems are chosen to be part of Poems on the Underground, especially because the Underground is such a pivotal means of transport in London, carrying thousands of locals and tourists daily. It tells me that my art has not lost its connection to the real world, and it gives me great comfort to know that someone's dull day might be brightened by looking up to read my work.'

Poet Imtiaz Dharker, said: 

'It was a great moment for me when my poem, 'Carving,' went up on the London Underground and now it's as exciting to see each new set of poems coming up, new work from living poets as well as old favourites. These Poems on the Underground give us a moment of stillness on a busy commute, something we need now more than ever. It still stops me in my tracks when I see them or see someone else reading one.

'It was such a brilliant idea from Judith Chernaik, Cicely Herbert and Gerard Benson and that's why it is still loved almost 40 years later.'

Poems on the Underground has delighted millions of commuters, tourists and Londoners since the first posters appeared on the London Underground in 1986. In February, the archive of Poems on the Underground, which includes posters, eclectic memorabilia and letters from poets over the past century, was donated to Cambridge University Library, home to the archives of Siegfried Sassoon, Anne Stevenson and other renowned poets.

Notes to editors

About Poems on the Underground

Poems on the Underground started life in January 1986 as an experiment by three friends, writer Judith Chernaik and poets Cicely Herbert and Gerard Benson. They persuaded London Underground to post a few poems on its trains, to the delight of bemused commuters. London Underground has supported the programme ever since, enabling us to offer poetry old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, to millions of daily travellers on London's Underground system. The three co-directors of Poems on the Underground are Judith Chernaik and poets Imtiaz Dharker and George Szirtzes.

TfL's Poems on the Underground project is supported by Arts Council England and The British Council.

An archive of the featured works for Poems on the Underground can be found at Index of Poets - Poems on the Underground

About Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Nii Ayikwei Parkes is a Ghanaian-British writer, editor and publisher, who has won acclaim as a children's author, poet, broadcaster and novelist. Winner of multiple international awards including the ACRAG award, his novel Tail of the Blue Bird won France's two major prizes for translated fiction - Prix Baudelaire and Prix Laure Bataillon - in 2014. Nii Ayikwei is the founder of flipped eye publishing, a leading small press, serves on the boards of World Literature Today and the Caine Prize, and was chair of judges for the 2020 Commonwealth Prize. A recent fellow of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, he is the author of two collections of poetry The Makings of You (2010) and The Geez (2020), both published by Peepal Tree Press. His latest book is Azúcar, a novel.

About Imtiaz Dharker

Imtiaz Dharker is a poet, artist and video film-maker. She is co-director of Poems on the Underground.

She was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014. She received the Cholmondeley Award and an Honorary Doctorate from SOAS, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 2020 she became the Chancellor of Newcastle University. Her collections include Purdah (Oxford University Press), Postcards from god, I speak for the devil and The terrorist at my table (all published by Penguin India and Bloodaxe Books UK), Leaving Fingerprints, Over the Moon, Luck is the Hookand her latest, Shadow Reader (May 2024, Bloodaxe Books UK).

Her poems are on the British GCSE and A Level English syllabus, and she reads with other poets at Poetry Live! events all over the country to more than 36,000 students a year. She has been Poet in Residence at Cambridge University Library, worked on a series of poems based on the Archives of St Paul's Cathedral as well as projects across art forms in Leeds, Newcastle and Hull. The inaugural Poet of the Fair at London Book Fair, her poems have been broadcast widely on BBC Radio 3 and 4 as well as the BBC World Service. She has had eleven solo exhibitions of drawings in India, London, New York and Hong Kong. She scripts and directs films, many of them for non-government organisations in India, working in the area of shelter, education and health for women and children.