October 2021

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.

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.

You can find our Black History Month Leaflet here

Poems Celebrating Black History Month

‘I now stir the skies’Jean Binta Breeze

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
Come. and be my baby ,Maya Angelou 'The highway is full of big cars going nowhere fast And folks is smoking anything that'll burn Some people wrap their lives around a cocktail glass And you sit wondering where you're going to turn. I got it. Come. And be my baby. Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow But others say we've got a week or two The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror And you sit wondering what you're gonna do. I got it. Come. And be my baby.'
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.'
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'
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.'
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'

‘I sing of a world reshaped’ – Niyi Osundare  

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.’
Anti-Slavery Movements. Benjamin Zephaniah 'Some people say Animal liberators are not Working in the interest of animals. But I've never seen liberated animals Protest by going back to their place Of captivity. But then again I've never heard of any liberated slaves Begging for more humiliation Or voting for slavery. Animals vote with their feet Or their wings Or their fins.
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
Love Poems on the Underground Promise   Jackie Kay. Remember, the time of year when the future appears like a blank sheet of paper
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!'
The Thing Not Said, E.A. Markham ‘We need life-jackets now to float On words which leave so much unsaid.’
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'

Caribbean Poems on the Underground

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'
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,
Dew, Kwame Dawes ' This morning I took the dew from the broad leaf of the breadfruit tree, and washed the sleep from my eyes.
Guinep, Olive Senior 'Our mothers have a thing about guinep: Mind you don't eat guinep in your good clothes. It will stain them.'
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.'
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.'

African Poems on the Underground

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'
Nightsong: City, Dennis Brutus 'Sleep well, my love, sleep well: the harbour lights glaze over restless docks, police cars cockroach through the tunnel streets;'
African Poems on the Underground: Season, Wole Soyinka. Rust is ripeness, rust And the wilted corn- plume
African Poems on the Underground Et nous baignerons mon amie Léopold Sédar Senghor, tr. Gerard Benson we shall be bathed, my love in the presence of Africa
African Poems on the Underground: Tin Roof: Nii Ayikwei Parkes. Wild harmattan winds whip you but still you stay;
African Poems on the Underground: Inside My Zulu Hut Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali. It is a hive without any bees to build the walls with golden bricks of honey.

African Poems on the Underground: from Poem to Her Daughter Mwana Kupona binti Msham. Daughter, take this amulet, tie it with cord and caring,

London Poems on the Underground

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’
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.’
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
Love, Hannah Lowe ‘Mornings, we’d find salmon bagels from Brick Lane, Char siu buns and Soho flower rolls, A box of Motichoor’
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.'

Poems displayed in September 2021 can be found on our September 2021 Page