18 Pages

Imagist travels in modernist space


I Travellers on the London Underground in the past few years have so enjoyed one facet of the experience that they have made a best-seller of a volume of poetry. The success of 100 Poems on the Undergroundreprinted three times in its first year-testifies to a remarkable desire for poetry by the London public, granted the parlous state of contemporary poetry publishing. The popularity of poems on the tube, placed in the narrow rectangular spaces normally occupied by advertisements, is enhanced by the prevailing conditions of their consumption. The contemporary urban experience of the Underground, as any user will say, is often a frustrating one. Aside from multifarious cancellations, signal failures, delays and emergencies, the feeling of being crushed into a small confined space with large numbers of unknown people produces a very strange, not to say strained, set of social relations. The tube is a visual trap; the opportunity to read something other than adverts, another person’s Evening Standard or a stranger’s face, is obviously a welcome one. Visual relations predominate and the invention of the Walkman only emphasizes this, allowing the eye to roam while appearing to concentrate on listening. The enthusiasm for poems on the Underground, therefore, points to the stress placed upon visual experience across the spaces of present-day urban life.