“It’s a London thing,” shouts a man on a bus in the night, aping a well-known estate agent’s slogan in a piece by the young English poet Ahren Warner. The man, who’s perhaps a bit in his cups and has earned a slap from his girlfriend, is “obviously a knob,” we’re told, but a happy one.
Mark Ford, the editor of our massive new anthology, London: A History in Verse, says the shout of Warner’s man stuck in his mind as “a particularly resonant way of trying to define what it is about London poetry that makes it different from other kinds of poetry.”
It’s always got to have a London thing about it. If you’re in London, you know you’re at the center of something, and that affects the way people behave in London, and it affects the way people write about London. For good or ill, they’re at the center of something and there’s lots of other people competing in that center. So, it seemed to me that the London “thing” was what I was after as I was scouring poetry books from the 14th century—1350s, indeed—to the present day.
Ford explains more about the poetry of London, and about how he approached the task of selecting the anthology’s contents, in this short video:
As he lays out in the book’s Preface, Ford intended the collection to mimic the layered feel of the city itself:
The poetry of London reflects all strata of the culture of London, and an anthology such as this might be said to replicate the way so many different types of Londoner, or types of visitor to London, find themselves crammed into the same tube carriage, so to speak—that is, forced to share the contested spaces and resources of the city. The collection is arranged chronologically according to the author’s date of birth, thus allowing, I hope, a sense of the successive waves of the city’s history, as the eras leach into each other, marked, now and again, by some singular crisis or decisive event. The range of poems and authors collected here seems to me a moving and eloquent testimony to the power of London to attract and absorb and inspire and give voice to its residents, and to the power of poetry to create, layer by layer by layer, its own history of the city.
You can scan the anthology’s full table of contents on our website, or, on Facebook, scroll all the way back to the 1300s on a timeline of the included poets’ births. Also on our site, you can read one of Ford’s own poems about the city.