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London: A History in Verse

London: A History in Verse

Hardback The Belknap Press

Edited by Mark Ford

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  • Publisher: The Belknap Press
  • Format: Hardback | 784 pages
  • Dimensions: 166mm x 240mm x 52mm | 1,479g
  • Publication date: 31 July 2012
  • Publication City/Country: Cambridge, Mass.
  • ISBN 10: 0674065689
  • ISBN 13: 9780674065680
  • Sales rank: 216,483

Product description

Called "the flour of Cities all," London has long been understood through the poetry it has inspired. Now poet Mark Ford has assembled the most capacious and wide-ranging anthology of poems about London to date, from Chaucer to Wordsworth to the present day, providing a chronological tour of urban life and of English literature. Nearly all of the major poets of British literature have left some poetic record of London: Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Johnson, Wordsworth, Keats, Byron, and T. S. Eliot. Ford goes well beyond these figures, however, to gather significant verse of all kinds, from Jacobean city comedies to nursery rhymes, from topical satire to anonymous ballads. The result is a cultural history of the city in verse, one that represents all classes of London's population over some seven centuries, mingling the high and low, the elegant and the salacious, the courtly and the street smart. Many of the poems respond to large events in the city's history - the beheading of Charles I, the Great Fire, the Blitz - but the majority reflect the quieter routines and anxieties of everyday life through the centuries. Ford's selections are arranged chronologically, thus preserving a sense of the strata of the capital's history. An introductory essay by the poet explores in detail the cultural, political, and aesthetic significance of the verse inspired by this great city. The result is a volume as rich and vibrant and diverse as London itself.

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Author information

Mark Ford is a poet and Professor of English at University College London.

Review quote

A magnificent collection revealing [London] in all its splendor and squalor. -- Mark Sanderson Sunday Telegraph 20120617 Here is a rich, poetic evocation of [London] by one who is himself a learned poet; and dull would he be of soul who did not find something to enjoy in its voluminous bulk. -- A. N. Wilson Evening Standard 20120621 No other city so inspires and infuriates poets like London... Spanning seven centuries, this fascinating new collection features Wordsworth and Pope alongside lesser-known and even anonymous poets, all of them moved by the city's labyrinthine streets and smells, sounds and textures. The volume includes an outbreak of plague, the Great Fire, the deposition of Charles I, the crowning of Charles II, two world wars and the introduction of the London Underground, all of it conveyed through the prism of poetry. It makes for a thrilling read... A wonderfully eclectic collection, which sees ballads and poems from popular pamphlets jostling alongside more meditative, contemplative works. There are many unknown gems, such as a rare poem by George Eliot ('In a London Drawingroom') and work from the under-appreciated Stevie Smith... Poems by Thorn Gunn and W.S. Graham, and the contemporary work of Seamus Heaney and Lavinia Greenlaw, prove that London is still a rich source of material. Both a history of London and a clever guide to some overlooked works, this volume is as unexpected and as dazzling as the metropolis itself. The Economist 20120630 [A] wonderful and ceaselessly evocative anthology of London verse. All the way from 14th-century William Langland and Chaucer to the present, we hear echoes, and see reflections... This vast volume is a guide to the city's authentically enduring soul. -- Sinclair McKay Daily Telegraph 20120630 [A] seething, clamorous megalopolis of a London anthology... I have never come across a London anthology (or any warehouse of urban poetry) as rich, as bold, as multifarious as this... Olympic visitors should lug this brick back home for a pungent souvenir of the original 'maximum city' in all its grot and grandeur. -- Boyd Tonkin The Independent 20120720 Traces an enchanting journey round the canonical to the quirky, from love lyrics, the cries of old London, ballads and limericks to satirical verses and epics. -- Juliet Gardiner History Today 20120801 This anthology is as much about how history is made by words, and how we remember, as it is about the poetry. If it is a history it is unapologetically composed of shards and fragments. But it is possible to glimpse something like a spirit of place; the splendid flashing temperament of a wild animal. For those unwilling to detach history from narrative, this great sprawling collection offers multifarious delights on their own terms. -- Felicity Plunkett Weekend Australian 20120721 [A] superb book dedicated to Londons both past and present... London: A History in Verse, edited by Mark Ford, will engage not only poetry lovers but anyone interested in a nearly seven-century poetic record of how London's citizens and visitors have interpretively framed this city... This ample and handsomely produced book won't leave any readers feeling cheated. Ford takes care to reflect a contemporary London that is a global city and a postcolonial capital as well. Instead of a monotone 'London English,' different demotic voices reflect today's cosmopolis. -- Brett Foster Books & Culture 20120727 This elegant selection of poets begins in the 14th century and ends in the present day. -- Nick Owchar Los Angeles Times 20120729 [A] gold [medal] goes to London: A History in Verse, edited by Mark Ford. This beautifully produced, doorstop of an anthology runs from the 14th century to the present day. -- Michael Murray-Fennell Country Life 20120725 Lavish and intensely enjoyable... Ford has searched the highways and back-alleys of the poetry world and brought together an anthology so great in scope and inviting in scale that it thunderously surpasses anything similar ever attempted... This is a volume to keep, to savor, and to re-savor. -- Steve Donoghue Open Letters Monthly 20120801 [A] superb anthology... Ford's collection shows the development of particular city-sensibilities: the hedonistic, jaded, nostalgic, urbane. Oppositions are played out as much between the classic dichotomies of country and town as by London's own inbuilt contradictions (wealth and poverty, pleasure and pain, fear and wonder)... By so assiduously unpacking the metropolis, Ford's anthology also stumps for poetry itself: as it leaps from historical events to the private dramas playing out in postal districts all over the 'great mean city,' the art asserts its primacy as a portal to the full range of the human. -- Nick Laird New York Review of Books 20120927 What's on offer is an exercise is historical-cultural geography. The experience of reading it is much like that of stepping out of King's Cross station and strolling the city's streets. Walk long enough, read deeply enough, and you'll be immersed in impressions of beauty, grime, humor, violence-often simultaneously. If this book succeeds as a celebration, it is only insofar as it admits everything, like the city itself. -- Tobias Peterson PopMatters 20120925 A rich anthology of poems and selections from poems that describe, evoke, and trace the history of London, beginning with the 14th-century Middle English poets Gower, Langland, and Chaucer, and continuing on to current ones such as Tom Chivers and Ahren Warners. In addition to the usual suspects such as Swift, Blake, and Eliot, there is a wide and deep diversity of poets, crossing national, class, and ethnic boundaries in order to express the full response to London. Following a chronological arrangement, Ford includes work commemorating the city's various defining historical events from insurrections to the Great Plague and Fire, the Industrial Revolution, the Blitz, the Swinging Sixties, and terrorist bombings... A fine anthology aimed not just at poetry specialists but for the general reader who loves both London and verse anthologies. -- T. L. Cooksey Library Journal 20121001 The book is as full of mayhem and color as the city itself... Ford's book packs in as much lore, as much fact and legend, as much gala occasion, as much glitter and cloud, gossip and prayer, sound and sight and smell as it's possible to imagine... Ford offers a wonderful sampler of British poets-as well as some of the many American ones who have washed up here, and written what they found. The titles of poems tantalize with place-names, stacking up like gold medals... Everyone's a winner, and London's finest moments are all here, for anyone who wants to look. -- Katy Evans-Bush Los Angeles Review of Books 20121014