a bit of culture on the london underground

16 May

I normally cycle to work every day but yesterday I had a meeting in Canary Wharf and the Pashley and I just did not feel up to the crosstown schlep.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in tow (yes, I know I’m late to this party), I was looking forward to spending the journey finding out if Hermione’s Polyjuice Potion would really trick Draco when a member of London Underground staff handed me a copy of ‘World Poems on the Underground’. Poems have been displayed on the Tube since 1986, and this little collection brings together poems from all over the world. Many of the poets settled in London, drawn by its long tradition of welcoming the wider diaspora.

I was completely enchanted from Holland Park to Canary Wharf (except for that hellish rush hour interchange at Bank), and this poem from Barbados was one of my favourites.

Naima

for John Coltrane

 

Propped against the crowded bar

he pours into the curved and silver horn

his old unhappy longing for a home

the dancers twist and turn

he leans and wishes he could burn

his memories to ashes like some old

notorious emperor

of rome. but no stars blazed across the sky

when he was born

no wise men found his hovel. This crowded

bar

where dancers twist and turn

holds all the fame and recognition he will

ever earn

on earth or heaven. he leans against the bar

and pours his old unhappy longing in the

saxophone

 Kamau Brathwaite

 Sometimes catching the Tube isn’t so bad after all.

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