Black History Month 2023

We are delighted to mark Black History Month with a selection of poems by Black poets with close links to England, Scotland, North America, the Caribbean and Africa. The poets include Nobel Prizewinners, poet laureates and performance artists, all reflecting in different ways on their individual experience.

We hope you enjoy the wonderful range, artistry and continued relevance of these poems, which over time have reached the three million daily travellers on London’s Underground system.

This new leaflet includes a selection of poems that have featured on London Underground since 2020, along with all the poems that were in our Black History Month Leaflet in 2020

You can find our Black History Month Leaflet here

Poems Celebrating Black History Month

And if I speak of Paradise, Roger Robinson ‘And if I speak of Paradise then I’m speaking of my grandmother who told me to carry it always on my person, concealed, so no one else would know but me.’
Moment in a Peace March, Grace Nichols ‘A holy multitude pouring Moment in a Peace March through the gates of Hyde Park – A great hunger repeated in cities all over the world’
Benediction, James Berry 'Thanks to the ear that someone may hear Thanks to seeing that someone may see'
I Sing of Change Niyi Osundare I sing of the beauty of Athens without its slaves Of a world free of kings and queens and other remnants of an arbitrary past
World Poems on the Underground Toussaint L’Ouverture Acknowledges Wordsworth’s Sonnet ‘To Toussaint L’Ouverture’   John Agard. I have never walked on Westminster Bridge or had a close-up view of daffodils
Barter, Nii Ayikwei Parkes ‘That first winter alone, the true meaning Barter of all the classroom rhymes that juggled snow and go, old and cold, acquired new leanings.’
History and Away, Andrew Salkey 'What we do with time and what time does with us is the way of history, spun down around our feet. So we say today, that we meet our Caribbean shadow just as it follows the sun, away into the curve of tomorrow. In fact our sickle of islands and continental strips are mainlands of time with our own marks on them, yesterday, today and tomorrow.'
African Poems on the Underground: Season, Wole Soyinka. Rust is ripeness, rust And the wilted corn- plume
I am Becoming My Mother, Lorna Goodison ' Yellow/brown woman fingers smelling always of onions My mother raises rare blooms and waters them with tea'
dreamer, Jean Binta Breeze 'roun a rocky corner by de sea seat up pon a drif wood yuh can fine she gazin cross de water a stick eena her han tryin to trace a future in de san'

Dream Boogie , Langston Hughes 'Good morning, daddy! Ain’t you heard The boogie-woogie rumble Of a dream deferred? Listen closely: You’ll hear their feet Beating out and beating out a— You think It’s a happy beat? Listen to it closely: Ain’t you heard something underneath like a— What did I say? Sure, I’m happy! Take it away! Hey, pop! Re-bop! Mop! Y-e-a-h!'
Naima for John Coltrane, Kamau Brathwaite 'Propped against the crowded bar he pours into the curved and silver horn his own unhappy longing for a home'
Mama Dot, Fred D’Aguiar ' Born on a sunday in the kingdom of Ashante Sold on monday into slavery Ran away on tuesday cause she born free Lost a foot on wednesday when they catch she Worked all thursday till her head grey Dropped on friday where they burned she Freed on saturday in a new century'
Free, Merle Collins 'Born free to be caught and fashioned and shaped and freed to wander within a caged dream of tears'
Map of the New World: Archipelagoes , Derek Walcott ' At the end of this sentence, rain will begin. At the rain's edge, a sail. Slowly the sail will lose sight of islands; into a mist will go the belief in harbours of an entire race. The ten-years war is finished. Helen's hair, a grey cloud. Troy, a white ashpit by the drizzling sea. The drizzle tightens like the strings of a harp. A man with clouded eyes picks up the rain and plucks the first line of the Odyssey.'
BOM Mumbai Airport, Nick Makoha 'This far East your thoughts are the edge of the world. It will not be the last time that you walk through a door hoping to return'
Ibadan J.P. Clark-Bekederemo ' Ibadan, running splash of rust and gold - flung and scattered among seven hills like broken china in the sun.'
The Palm Trees at Chigawe. Jack Mapanje 'You stood like women in green Proud travellers in panama hats and java print'
Sun a-shine, rain a-fall, Valerie Bloom 'Sun a-shine, rain a-fall, The Devil an' him wife cyan 'gree at all, The two o'them want one fish-head, The Devil call him wife bonehead, She hiss her teeth, call him cock-eye, Greedy, worthless an 'workshy, While them busy callin' name, The puss walk in, sey is a shame To see a nice fish go to was'e, Lef' with a big grin pon him face.'
Viv, Faustin Charles Like the sun rising and setting Like the thunderous roar of a bull rhino Like the sleek, quick grace of a gazelle,
On the Thames, Karen McCarthy Woolf ‘The houseboat tilts into the water at low tide, ducklings slip in mud. Nothing is stable in this limbo summer, where he leaves his shoes in the flat.’
The London Eye, Patience Agbabi 'Through my gold-tinted Gucci sunglasses, the sightseers. Big Ben's quarter chime strikes the convoy of number 12 buses that bleeds into the city's monochrome. Through somebody's zoom lens, me shouting to you, "Hello...on...bridge...'minster!' The aerial view postcard, the man writing squat words like black cabs in rush hour. The South Bank buzzes with a rising treble. You kiss my cheek, formal as a blind date. We enter Cupid's Capsule, a thought bubble where I think, 'Space age!', you think 'She was late.' Big Ben strikes six, my SKIN. Beat blinks, replies 18.02. We're moving anti-clockwise.'
Promise by Jackie Kay: Remember, the time of year when the future appears like a blank sheet of paper a clean calendar, a new chance. On thick white snow you vow fresh footprints then watch them go with the wind’s hearty gust. Fill your glass. Here’s tae us. Promises made to be broken, made to last.'
Dew, Kwame Dawes ' This morning I took the dew from the broad leaf of the breadfruit tree, and washed the sleep from my eyes.

New poems

from Beacon of Hope (for John La Rose) by Linton Kwesi Johnson ' welcome nocturnal friend I name you beacon of hope tonight fear fades to oblivion as you guide us beyond the stars to a new horizon tomorrow a stranger will enter my hut my cave my cool cavern of gloom I will give him bread he will bring good news from afar I will give him water he will bring a gift of light'
Upwards (for Ty Chijioke) after Christopher Gilbert by Raymond Antrobus ' The last place the sun reaches in my garden is the back wall where the ivy grows above the stinging nettles. What are they singing to us? Is it painless to listen? Will music soothe our anxious house? Speech falls on things like rain sun shades all the feelings of having a heart. Here, take my pulse, take my breath, take my arms as I drift off ' Reprinted by permission of Picador from All the Names Given (2021)
Colonization in Reverse Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie, I feel like me heart gwine burs’ Jamaica people colonizin Englan in reverse. By de hundred, by de t’ousan From country and from town, By de ship-load, by de plane-load Jamaica is Englan bound. Dem a-pour out o’ Jamaica, Everybody future plan Is fe get a big-time job An settle in de mother lan. What a islan! What a people! Man an woman, old an young Jusa pack dem bag and baggage An tun history upside dung! Louise Bennett © Louise Bennett 1966 from Jamaica Labrish (Sangsters, 1966)


My father, God bless his axe.

He grooved deep in pitch pine.

He spun his charm like bachelor galvanise

in hurricane. Once I saw him peep through

torrential rain like a saint at a killing.

And when the wind broke his cassava trees,

and the water overcame his eight-track machine,

and his clothes were swept away in the flood,

his Hail Mary fell upon a fortress of bone.

So he crossed his chest with appointed finger

and hissed a prayer in glossolalic verse.

He may grand-charge and growl but he woundeth not,

nor cursed the storm that Papa God send

to wash away the wish of him and every dream he built.

            Anthony Joseph

            from Sonnets for Albert (Bloomsbury 2022)

The London Breed I love dis great polluted place Where pop stars come to live their dreams Here ravers come for drum and bass And politicians plan their schemes, The music of the world is here Dis city can play any song They came to here from everywhere Tis they that made dis city strong. A world of food displayed on streets Where all the world can come and dine On meals that end with bitter sweets And cultures melt and intertwine, Two hundred languages give voice To fifteen thousand changing years And all religions can rejoice With exiled souls and pioneers. Benjamin Zephaniah Reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Too Black Too Strong (2001)
The only thing far away In this country, Jamaica is not quite as far as you might think. Walking through Peckham in London, West Moss Road in Manchester, you pass green and yellow shops where tie-headwomen bargain over the price of dasheen. And beside Jamaica is Spain selling large yellow peppers, lemon to squeeze onto chicken. Beside Spain is Pakistan, then Egypt, Singapore, the world. . . here, strangers build home together, flood the ports with curry and papayas; in Peckham and on Moss Road, the place smells of more than just patty or tandoori. It smells like Mumbai, like Castries, like Princess Street, Jamaica. Sometimes in this country, the only thing far away is this country. Kei Miller Reprinted by permission of Carcanet from There Is an Anger That Moves (2007)
Dei Miracole by Lemn Sissay ' The spirit of structure can’t be foreseen, For somewhere between The architecture and the dream More than the sum of its parts Somehow, somewhere, the heart.' Copyright Listener by Lemn Sissay, 2008. First published in Great Britain by Canongate Books Ltd.
The Thing Not Said, E.A. Markham ‘We need life-jackets now to float On words which leave so much unsaid.’
Guinep, Olive Senior 'Our mothers have a thing about guinep: Mind you don't eat guinep in your good clothes. It will stain them.'
Praise Song for My Mother by Grace Nichols 'You were water to me deep and bold and fathoming You were moon’s eye to me pull and grained and mantling You were sunrise to me rise and warm and streaming You were the fishes red gill to me the flame tree’s spread to me the crab’s leg/the fried plantain smell replenishing replenishing Go to your wide futures, you said' Reprinted by permission of Curtis Brown from I Have Crossed an Ocean: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe 2010)
A dream of leavin, James Berry ' Man, so used to notn, this is a dream I couldn't dream of dreamin so - I scare I might wake up. One day I would be Englan bound! A travel would have me on sea not chained down below, every tick of clock, but free, man! Free like tourist! Never see me coulda touch world of Englan - when from all accounts I hear that is where all we prosperity end up. I was always in a dream of leavin. My half-finished house was on land where work-laden ancestors' bones lay. The old plantation land still stretch-out down to the sea, giving grazing to cattle.'
Windrush Child (for Vince Reid, at 13 the youngest passenger on the Empire Windrush) Behind you Windrush child palm trees wave goodbye above you Windrush child seabirds asking why around you Windrush child blue water rolling by beside you Windrush child your Windrush mum and dad think of storytime yard and mango mornings and new beginnings doors closing and opening John Agard Reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Alternative Anthem: Selected Poems (2009)
Bam Chi Chi La La London, 1969, Lorna Goodison ‘In Jamaica she was a teacher. Here, she is charwoman at night in the West End. She eats a cold midnight meal carried from home’
Rising, Jean Binta Breeze having some summers gone dug out that old tree stump that darkened my garden having waited without planting (for it was impossible then to choose the growth) having lost the dream but not the art of healing having released the roots of pain into content I now stir the skies

Black History Month

We are delighted to mark BHM with a selection
of poems by Black poets with close links to
England, Scotland, the United States, the
Caribbean and Africa. The poets include Nobel
Prizewinners, poet laureates and performance
artists, all reflecting in different ways on their
individual experience.
We hope readers will gain new insight into the
complexities of Black history from the poems
reprinted here.
All the poems in this collection have been
featured on London tube trains, reaching an
estimated three million daily travellers in this
most international of cities.
We are grateful to Transport for London and
London Underground, Arts Council England and
the British Council for enabling us to produce
and distribute free copies of this leaflet.
We also thank authors and publishers for
permission to reprint the poems here and on
our website:
The Editors London 2023
Design by The Creative Practice
Published by Poems on the Underground
Registered at Companies House in England
and Wales No. 06844606 as
Underground Poems
Community Interest Company


Poems on the Underground isn’t just a
programme that brings moments of reflection
to millions of Londoners annually – it’s a
programme that is experienced and enjoyed by
people who work for TfL
I love celebrations like Black History Month as
they are a great way to raise awareness and
continue your education about all aspects of
culture, arts and history. This is an important
and invaluable way to bring all of London’s
diverse communities together.
2023 marks the 75th anniversary year since the
Windrush Generation arrived from the
Caribbean to help rebuild Britain after World
War II. TfL, like so many other organisations in
London, has been shaped and transformed by
their fantastic contribution and achievements.
It is therefore a wonderful tribute that, during
Black History Month, their contribution is
celebrated in the poems in this leaflet. Featured
are the voices of Black poets from around the
world, with several new additions focusing
specifically on the Windrush experience.
While these poets write of their own
experiences, the feelings they evoke – of family,
of hope, of London – are ones which with many
of us, including myself, are familiar.
I hope that these poems help you think about
your own history and place within this bustling,
teeming city.
Winsome Hull, BEM
Senior Business Strategy Manager,
Transport for London