Rail firm puts poetry into locomotion

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The Independent Online
IT'S A thought to freeze the blood. The nation's first poet-in- residence on a train network has been named.

He is Ian McMillan, who has been appointed by the Northern Spirit railway company to delight both passengers and staff with recitals of his jaunty, locomotive-based verses all over the north of England. He will not be confined to a single train or route, but has a brief "to roam the network" like the Ancient Mariner, buttonholing strangers with his limpid stanzas. "Ian will be our pop-up poet," warned a spokesman for Northern Spirit, "He will be popping up on services, giving our customers the chance to have a different experience while travelling."

How passengers will react to this bardic jack-in-the-box, and whether they will appreciate their good fortune in having a "different experience" en route to the office has not yet been assessed. Mr McMillan is enthusiastic about his new job. "I love rail travel," he says, "I travel by train all the time and it's a great place to write. Also I'm a bit of an anorak when it comes to stations, and there are a few I'd like to be able to visit and write at".

Mr McMillan is no opportunistic yob. He is a poet of some repute, who recently performed at the prestigious Ledbury Poetry Festival. He is already poet in residence at Barnsley Football Club, a posting that is by no means as ridiculous as it sounds; and he presents the amusingly thick-ear literary- parodies show Booked on BBC Radio 4.

His appointment is part of Northern Spirit's pounds 15,000 sponsorship deal with the Ilkley Literature Festival. McMillan kicks off the sponsorship today - on the Shipley to Ilkley line, if you'd like to see him in action - and starts his new job in October. In the meantime, the literary world can mull over his first production, "Lines of Steel" which will be printed on display boards and the backs of tickets.

A simple, indeed childish, neo-Blakean lyric, it will make a welcome change from businessmen saying "Hello darling, I'm on the train" into their mobile phones.


by Ian McMillan

Lines of Steel

Lines of Words

On the train tracks

Poems get heard

Northern Spirit

Guides the way

Hear the poems

We speak today

Day return

Tickets please

Clutch your briefcase

On your knees

Platform 9

Platform 3

Moving words

For you and me

Lines of steel

Lines of words

On the train tracks

Poems get heard