As I note in Poetry at Work, with the exception of a few months in 2000 when I worked from home, my work career has included the “daily bookends” of a commute – as short as a mile when I had a small office in my hometown suburb of St. Louis, and as long as 17 miles when I drive daily to and from downtown Houston.
But commutes aren’t just limited to work.
I love London’s underground train system, aka the tube. I love being able to walk a block from my hotel, descend to the St. James’s Park station platform, and find my way to the Tower of London, Hampstead Heath, the West End, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Harrod’s, the Tate Modern, and the British Library.
I love the tube’s speed. I love pace of the crowds. I love looking (surreptitiously) at the people on the trains and seeing virtually every nationality and ethnic group on the planet. I love the tube stations, from the Piccadilly line’s stations dating from the 1920s (and earlier) to the contemporary Westminster station near Parliament, which looks like something from 1984 or Brave New World. I love the escalators, with some going quite deep, and looking at advertisements of London plays as I travel down or up.
And I even love the stations where you have to take an elevator from the platform to the surface. One time, because of the large crowds waiting for the elevator at the Russell Square Station, I took the narrow winding stairs.
Enclosed in silver space, light
illuminating faces and dreams,
hurtling through geography past
Romans and Druids and Britons
and Saxons and Vikings and Normans,
rumbling through time, seeking
eternity, or a good cup of tea.
My wife prefers London’s buses. She likes to see where she’s going and what might be seen along the way. To keep the peace, I’ve learned the basic bus routes.
Since 1986, Transport for London, the government agency that operates the city’s underground, buses, and overground trains, has sponsored a program called “Poems on the Underground.” I hadn’t heard of it until, one vacation a few years back, my wife and I were traveling by tube to meet a friend for lunch and I looked up at the tube map inside our car. And there was a poem, “Buses on the Strand” by R.P. Lister.
To give credit where credit is due, Transport for London’s poetry program idea came from an American, Judith Chernaik. It was based on a program that had started in the United States.
Whether we travel or vacation or work or some combination, we commute. No matter how long or short, each commute has a sense of poetry. It may be what we see from the window of a car or bus, what we can see through clouds from the window of a plane, the geography stretching before us from the seat of a train, or even the darkness punctuated of periodically lit platforms of a subway or underground system.
The poetry is also found in the sounds of the commute – the wheezing gasps of the brakes on a bus or car accenting the horns and engines of street traffic, the roar of jet engines, or the dulled rolling sound of a train car’s wheels on rails.
Consider your own path to and from work, or a recent trip. Consider the street signs and the highways, or even the names of tube stations. And write a poem.
FEATURED IMAGE BY TOM DARIN LISKEY
Glynn Young is the fiction editor at Literary Life.
He is an award-winning speechwriter and public relations executive and is a Fellow of the Public Relations Society of America and a member of the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame. He blogs at Faith, Fiction, Friends. Glynn is the author of three published novels in the Dancing Priest series – Dancing Priest (2012), A Light Shining (2013), Dancing King(2017), and Dancing Prophet (2018). He is the author of the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. He is also a contributing editor at Tweetspeak Poetry.