English - Get poetry on track

18th January 2013 at 00:00

What it's all about

On 9 January 1863, history was made in London. The world's first underground railway - the Metropolitan line - opened. Now a new edition of Poems on the Underground (Penguin) celebrates the 150th anniversary, writes Victoria Grace Walden.

The volume contains 230 poems that have decorated Tube carriages over the years, entertaining commuters and tourists as they journey across the capital.

The poems are split into topics: there are verses on love, the seasons and the natural world, alongside poems about London, war, exile and loss. With works by Sappho, Seamus Heaney, Chaucer and Shakespeare, Milton, Blake and Shelley, the book could inspire many topics in class.

The chapter of 20 war poems reveals the vital role Tube stations played during the Blitz, when more than 170,000 Londoners took shelter there. Bunk beds and washrooms were installed and trains supplied food and tea to the temporary refugees.

Lotte Kramer's Exodus reminds us that journeys can be enforced, yet sometimes save lives. She writes, from experience, of the Kindertransport - trains organised by the British to take Jewish children from Nazi Germany to safety on our shores.

Poems on the Underground was the idea of three friends - Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert - who in 1986 persuaded London Underground to post a few poems on the walls of its trains. Since then, public transport poetry has spread as far as Beijing in China and Melbourne in Australia.

What else?

TES English shares a series of resources on Diane Samuels' play Kindertransport, with an introduction for teachers and resources to introduce pupils to the context of the Holocaust. bit.lytesKindertransport.

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