Poetry can explore and document place. Future Learn offered a free course called Literature and Mental Health which I took part in. It used the poem Adlestrop by Edward Thomas;

When we travel, we often find ourselves frustrated by delays in our journey. We are so concerned about getting from A to B that we never stop to look at the world around us.

The practice of ‘Mindfulness’ would encourage us to accept delays and pauses in our journey. Instead of growing irritated by red lights and traffic jams, we should take these opportunities to stop and immerse ourselves in the moment, becoming more aware of our surroundings. This is precisely what Thomas describes in his poem; his train stops unexpectedly at a station, and all the beautiful sights and sounds of nature seem to expand before him.

We hope that Thomas’ poem can remind us to accept delays in our journeys as opportunities to take in the world around us, that we might not otherwise see.

I vividly remember sitting on the London Underground when I was an undergraduate student and looking up.

in the heart of hackney

I closed my eyes, overwhelmed. 2016 marks 30 years of Poems on the Underground. It has been an ingenious and successful project from Transport for London. As we sit numbly on a commute, we are invited this way to be transported out of ourselves. Or could it be into ourselves? It was the last two lines of the poem that got to me as I was allowing myself, at last, to be at home in the East End of London. This borough close to its oldest part The City. I was being redirected to another London. Yes, its wildlife and natural beauty but so too its deeper heritage of which I had always been a part of.

Many years later, when London was calling, I was leaving work on the Paris Metro. It is not as common to see poems on their subterranean trains but there was one that day.

des villes

Cities, and more cities;

I have memories of cities like memories of love

What is there to say?

Sometimes it comes to me

At night, I dream that I am here or there

And I awake with a desire to travel.

I’m always internationally migrating in my mind and struggling to reconcile where I have been with where I am. And the older I get, the less I like actual travelling. I try to minimise it as much as I can now.

A walk in The Hague where I live now introduced me to a Dutch poet inscribed in white paint on the side of a house.

go lie dear

Now go lie love
In the garden.
The empty spots have tall grass
I have always desired
that I was that empty place
for someone to stay

An Afrikaner friend translated that one for me though he did find it tricky. At times it’s not about lost in translation but that there is no translation. I take away from this poem a sense that I still visit or revisit people I can no more reach out and touch. Local poems can engage (third culture) individuals with where they are but equally important is how they interpret them. Their perspective matters too.

The last poem I leave you with was one I spied in Malaga just last week. Can you see the connection between all the poets? Where were you? Where are you? And where are you going? Bon voyage.

Malaga

You will never find another land nor another sea. The city is within you always.

Has a public poem made you stop in your tracks? Which one(s) and why?

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