In Competition No. 2710 you were invited to supply a poem reflecting on travelling by Tube.
Not something, perhaps, that would inspire many of us to heights of lyricism, though T.S. Eliot evokes subterranean travel to powerful effect in Four Quartets. Here he is, in ‘East Coker’, on the experience of stopping in a tunnel, when life itself seems to stands still: ‘Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations/ And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence/ And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen/ Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about…’ And then, of course, there is Ezra Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’, which Frank Osen’s entry makes a nod to. His fellow victors get £25; D.A. Prince gets £30.
The last deep breaths, then: Oyster Card,
And magic’lly Hell Mouth’s unbarred.
Here’s all foul London’s sweat and heat
Redoubled underneath your feet.
How many suck and share the air
Low in the bowels of Russell Square?
Or cough their foetid germs on to
The dank tiles of the Bakerloo?
Only the strongest stomachs go
From Walthamstow to Pimlico
When crowds, sardine-like, packed in oil,
Are fused in one long seething coil.
Hell’s lowest circle can’t compete
With all that rots at Warren Street.
Not even Dante’s pen could write
The horrors of King’s Cross at night.
Staring into inner space
Or at a doppelgänger shown
Opposite the grubby place
Where you wait alone, alone:
As the carriage starts to rumble
Do not think of conversation —
Listen to your silent mumble
As you race through every station:
As you pass the time, grotesque,
In an existential trap,
Be an android, statuesque,
And always mind the sodding gap.
Here is perfect solipsism,
People-polyps kept apart,
Everyone an aneurysm
In the nation’s rotten heart.
It smells annoying and the noise is loud,
It sports graffiti, here and there, beneath
Its coats of city grit — and that’s the crowd
Who’ve rushed or trudged to fill this gleaming sheath,
Which takes off in a hush of whirring metal.