A dream? Not in London - thanks to a creative young lady, this could really happen to you...
I'm thrilled to introduce Nina Ellis and her Underground Poetry Group...
I live between Cambridge (I am at university there) and London, where I moved when I was fourteen -- I grew up in Paris. I started Underground Poetry in March 2010 and ran it alone until this September, when I realised I needed to get some other people on board to take it to the next level. Now the team is comprised of me, Katya Kazakevich, George Shapter, Donald Futers, Talissa Spencer-Dewhurst and Leila Morad. We publish as many people as we can -- there are about thirty Underground Poets at the moment -- and the number of distributors also varies and is growing. We welcome anyone who wants to get involved.
Nina, how and when did you get the idea to hand out poems to London subway travelers?
I got the idea when travelling on the Tube last March. I have always found other Tube travellers really interesting -- I love looking at the people around me and wondering what their stories are. It's strange, in a way, that we're all packed into a carriage like that, so close together, and yet don't know anything about each other. I think encouraging the connection and interaction of Tube-travelling strangers is a really positive, mind-opening thing to do. And since I see poetry as a sort of snapshot into its author's world-view, it makes sense as a way of achieving that sort of interpersonal connection. So we hand out poetry by Tube travellers to Tube travellers to give them insights into each other's lives and minds... And of course to cheer them up on their commute!
How do the commuters react to this - are they surprised or alienated?
They're usually surprised and happy. We do get some funny responses though, like "A free phone?" (no, it's a free POEM) or "How much does it cost?" (I said a FREE poem). But often people will ask for several to give to their families, colleagues or students, which is wonderful; or they'll be very grateful and supportive, which of course is so encouraging.
Do you get feedback from the travelers?
Yes, and UP is based on their feedback: they read the poems we hand out and send their own poetry to the email address printed beneath them... And then we print it the following month. Usually they do send messages with the poems. They're always really positive and encouraging, and often quite moving. It makes me so happy to read them and know that by doing this we're really touching people, emotionally and intellectually.
Are you working together with other groups or have you heard about something like this existing in other cities?
No, this is the first thing I've heard of that does this. People have asked to start UP projects in their own cities, so we're thinking about how we could do that. But yes... We love collaborating with other artists and art activists -- for instance, we're putting on a Live Poetry and Music night at the Troubadour in London on January 7th (see the website or Facebook group for more details), at which Underground Poets will be performing alongside musicians and artists. And of course all of our leaflets, and the logo, are designed by the artist George Shapter. So we do believe strongly in collaboration; we think sharing our art and ideas is the key to inspiration and fulfilment. That's why we do what we do.
What are your plans for the future?
To keep the Underground Poetry movement going and growing!
Also, here is our Manifesto:
"The goal of the Underground Poetry movement is to bring London Underground travellers into meaningful contact with each other through poetry: we hand out poems written by travellers to other travellers for free on the Tube. We believe that these poems act as social snapshots, as glimpses into their authors' worlds. By distributing them on the Underground we aim to give Londoners the opportunity to see life from each others' widely varying points of view. This process promotes empathy and tolerance, and appeals to a natural human curiosity about the man in the yellow socks who got on at Finsbury Park (or whoever). Of course, the Underground Poetry movement also encourages the day-to-day writing and reading of poetry. Every leaflet we print features our website and email addresses, so that the recipient can send in their poetry to be published by us the following month.
Underground Poetry was founded in March 2010. Since then we have printed and distributed a new batch of poems every month. Submissions have risen to over one hundred per month, and we now publish at least a thousand leaflets in each issue, featuring between five and twenty different poems. Printing is cheap and simple: we photocopy templates onto A4 paper, and cut each sheet into two A5 flyers, which we distribute. Since March, the Underground Poetry team has increased from one person to ten (including a treasurer, a web director and an art director, amongst others) and the founder and editor has been interviewed for a leading online poetry magazine. We have had a great deal of encouragement and enthusiastic support throughout, and have recently received requests to set up Underground Poetry in Bristol and Toronto. Word is spreading.
At the moment we are looking for funding to cover printing and website costs, so that Underground Poetry can support itself. It is not expensive to run: at the moment it costs us less than fifty pounds per month, though we would like to increase output in the near future."
We welcome submissions of any kind of poetry (or lyrics, or very very short stories), provided it will fit onto an A5 sheet of paper. It does not have to be about the Underground, but can be if you'd like it to be. We prefer to publish poems that Tube travellers can identify with, and that have about them a sense of joy and hope -- the Underground is dark and grimy enough as it is.
Email address for submissions is firstname.lastname@example.org