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Poems On The Underground archive donated to Cambridge University Library

Poems On The Underground, the public art scheme which has seen the words of literary greats displayed on posters across London’s Tube network since 1986, has donated its archive to Cambridge University Library.

Letters to organisers of the project, including from former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and from Nobel Prize winners Seamus Heaney and Louise Gluck, are among the collection given to the prestigious institution.

Co-directors of Poems On The Underground have praised the move to house the archive, which also features hundreds of posters and memorabilia, at Cambridge University Library.

One poignant letter in the archive is from the much-loved poet Philip Larkin, who did not live long enough to see his poem The Trees take its place on the Tube in 1986.

The archive of the public art project Poems on the Underground has been donated to Cambridge University Library. (Cambridge University Library/ PA)
The archive of the public art project Poems On The Underground has been donated to Cambridge University Library (Cambridge University Library/ PA)

Larkin, who died aged 63 in December 1985 following a cancer battle, dictated the letter dated July 26, 1985, due to his failing health.

In the letter to one of the organisers Judith Chernaik, Larkin said: “I am glad your project is being favourably regarded.

“It makes me wonder whether I shall ever actually see one of the poems in the proposed location!”

In separate correspondence, sent to Chernaik by Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet said that Poems On The Underground had “made a difference”.

“I admire you for keeping the underground poems a priority: it is worth doing and has made a difference, I am sure, to the life-worth of poetry for many people,” he wrote in the 1999 card.

“Blessings on the work.”

The archive of the public art project Poems on the Underground has been donated to Cambridge University Library. (Cambridge University Library/ PA)
The archive of the public art project Poems On The Underground has been donated to Cambridge University Library (Cambridge University Library/ PA)

Heaney’s poem The Railway Children was included in the first set of Poems On The Underground posters, in January 1986.

Writer Anne Stevenson was one of several to thank Chernaik for sending posters, stating: “I shall try to find a way of framing all three for my kitchen wall – to cheer me while I toil.”

Poems On The Underground was initially conceived and brought to life by writers Chernaik, Gerard Benson and Cicely Herbert.

It is now co-directed by Chernaik, Imtiaz Dharker and George Szirtes.

Chernaik said it was “hugely gratifying to know that our archive is now housed and catalogued at one of the greatest libraries of the world”.

John Wells, senior archivist at Cambridge University Library, said that the “wonderful archive” also includes papers on schemes around the world that were inspired by Poems On The Underground.

The archive of the public art project Poems on the Underground has been donated to Cambridge University Library. (Cambridge University Library/ PA)
The archive of the public art project Poems On The Underground has been donated to Cambridge University Library (Cambridge University Library/PA)

Cambridge University Library is also home to the archives of Siegfried Sassoon, Anne Stevenson and other renowned poets.

News of the donation of the Poems On The Underground archive was announced on the day of publication for the 116th set of poems, featuring works by Byron, Emily Bronte and contemporary British and Irish poets.

The collection has been catalogued and is available for consultation at the library by anyone interested in seeing it.