World Poetry Day Recordings

Poems on the Underground Celebrating World Poetry Day

Poetry speaks to our common humanity and our shared values, transforming the simplest of poems into a powerful catalyst for dialogue, thought and peace.

Since 1986, Poems on the Underground has brought more than 600 poems, old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, to all who travel on London Underground.

For World Poetry Day, TfL Corporate Archives held an online celebration of the programme and its poems giving us the opportunity to be reminded of the beauty that surrounds us and of the resilience of the human spirit.

Poems on the Underground Recordings for World Poetry Day

Judith Chernaik, founder of Poems on the Underground, reads her poem ‘Tortoise,’ commissioned to represent the tortoise in ‘Carnival of the Animals’ by the French composer Saint-Saens

Tortoise, Judith Chernaik ' Under the mottled shell of the old tortoise beats the heart of a young dancer. '

George Szirtes, Hungarian-born poet and translator and part of the Poems on the Underground team reads  his own poem ‘Accordionist’ and a poem by the Kurdish poet Ilhan Sami Comak, ‘What I know of the sea’.  Comak is a Kurdish poet who has been imprisoned in a Turkish prison for 29 years, as a ‘political activist,’ a charge never proven.

Accordionist read by George Szirtes

Accordionist, George Szirtes ' The accordionist is a blind intellectual carrying an enormous typewriter whose keys grow wings as the instrument expands into a tall horizontal hat that collapses with a tubercular wheeze. My century is a sad one of collapses. The concertina of the chest; the tubular bells of the high houses; the flattened ellipses of our skulls that open like petals. We are the poppies sprinkled along the field. We are simple crosses dotted with blood. Beware of the sentiments concealed in this short rhyme. Be wise. Be good.'

What I know of the sea by  İlhan Sami Çomak read by George Szirtes

What I know of the sea by İlhan Sami Çomak translated by Caroline Stockford ' Rains wander your face, the gentleness of dew is in your voice. Let each and every spring be yours! May all mountains tire and arrive here! Here at the place where stars have spilled you where waters flow; the place where you say Curl up on my lap and let birds take flight In the place where we collected questions such as ‘what was before words?’ What I know of love is so little! Yet I’m constantly thinking of you!' Reprinted by permission of Smokestack Books from Separated from the Sun (2022)

Imtiaz Dharker reading her poem ‘Carving’, and ‘A Portable Paradise’ by Roger Robinson the distinguished British writer, musician and performance poet with strong ties with Trinidad; his poem was on the tube last year. Imtiaz, a prize-winning poet with ties both with India and Pakistan, has been part of Poems on the Underground for the past 9 years.

Carving read by Imtiaz Dharker

World Poems on the Underground Carving , Imtiaz Dharkar. Others can carve out their space in tombs and pyramids

A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson read by Imtiaz Dharker

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.’

Paula Meehan, Irish poet and playwright, reads her poem ‘Seed’, perfect for this time of year

Seed by Paula Meehan 'The first warm day of spring and I step out into the garden from the gloom of a house where hope had died to tally the storm damage, to seek what may have survived. And finding some forgotten lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn holding in their fingers a raindrop each like a peace offering, or a promise, I am suddenly grateful and would offer a prayer if I believed in God. But not believing, I bless the power of seed, its casual, useful persistence, and bless the power of sun, its conspiracy with the underground, and thank my stars the winter’s ended.'

Seed read by Paula Meehan

Theo Dorgan, Irish writer, reads his poem based on many happy visits to Greece, ‘Bread Dipped in Olive Oil and Salt’

Theo Dorgan, Bread Dipped in Olive Oil and Salt 'Bread dipped in olive oil and salt, a glass of rough dry white. A table beside the evening sea where you sit shelling pistachios,'

Valerie Bloom, (MBE for services to poetry) has published several popular volumes of poems for children and adults. She writes poetry in English and Jamaican patois for all ages, and has performed her work throughout the world, She reads ‘Sun a-shine, rain a-fall’

Sun a Shine by Rain a Fall read by Valerie Bloom

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.'

John Glenday, Scottish poet, reads his poem ‘For my Wife, Reading in Bed’

For my Wife, Reading in Bed read by John Glenday

For My Wife, Reading in Bed by John Glenday ' I know we’re living through all the dark we can afford. Thank goodness, then, for this moment’s light and you, holding the night at bay—a hint of frown, those focussed hands, that open book. I’ll match your inward quiet, breath for breath. What else do we have but words and their absences to bind and unfasten the knotwork of the heart; to remind us how mutual and alone we are, how tiny and significant? Whatever it is you are reading now my love, read on. Our lives depend on it.' John Glenday Reprinted by permission of Picador from Selected Poems (2020)