Cover: London: A History in Verse, from Harvard University PressCover: London in PAPERBACK


A History in Verse

Edited by Mark Ford

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$31.00 • £26.95 • €28.95

ISBN 9780674088047

Publication Date: 11/16/2015


784 pages

Belknap Press


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The huge anthology [Ford] has edited is a considerable and welcome achievement. Any literate cloakroom should have a copy, but so should anyone interested in London or, indeed, life.—Lachlan MacKinnon, The Times Literary Supplement

[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, The New York Review of Books

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 Thom 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

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, The Evening Standard

[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

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, The Los Angeles Review of Books

[Ford’s] anthology, ranging from the mid-fourteenth-century poems of John Gower and William Langland to a poem of Ahren Warner (b. 1986), and across all genres (love poems, satires, anonymous ballads, street cries, limericks, personal memoirs) and all styles (free verse to sonnets and villanelles—Wendy Cope has a beauty), displays an openness of mind and a keen eye.—Geoffrey Lehmann, Australian Book Review

[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

[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

[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, The Daily Telegraph

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

If I were going to recommend one perfect present for a poetry lover, it would be London: A History in Verse.—Suzi Feay, The Independent on Sunday

This elegant selection of poets begins in the 14th century and ends in the present day.—Nick Owchar, The Los Angeles Times

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

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

A magnificent collection revealing [London] in all its splendor and squalor.—Mark Sanderson, The Sunday Telegraph

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

This delightfully thick book offers poems from the late 14th century to the early 21st that are connected in one fashion or another with London. Offerings range from nursery rhymes through watermen’s songs and pedlars’ chants, with stops at less-familiar subgenres, such as ‘Thames frozen over’ poems… Sure to afford instruction and delight to readers who love London, to readers curious about the city, and (for that matter) to readers who loathe the place.—E. D. Hill, Choice

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

This marvelous anthology ranging over six centuries about one of the great cities of the world is not only a delight to read, but also a revelation: Who would have suspected that there were so many memorable poems written about London by poets one tends to identify with other interests? Starting with Mark Ford’s informative and thoroughly enjoyable introduction, we go from surprise to surprise turning the pages of this book, very much like someone taking in the sights of a city he was not familiar with, or has long known, and is now discovering to his astonishment, as if for the first time.—Charles Simic

A volume that holds a poetic mirror up to London—and how does she look? Sublime and squalid, high-born and street-smart, worthy of a sonnet and fit only for doggerel. This irresistible collection captures 600 years of the city’s vibrant many-voiced chorus. A gem.—Zadie Smith

This vivid, vibrant and vital anthology takes us into the heart and history of Eliot’s ‘unreal city’, poem by poem. Mark Ford has gathered together poems born of London, in conversation with London, in combat with London, in awe of London, most of which were first published in London, centre of print and power. Covering six and a half centuries of wandering, whoring, watching, drinking, dancing, praying, building, courting, and cursing, here can be found Wordsworth’s ‘endless stream of men and moving things’, even when, as Fleur Adcock puts it, ‘the traffic’s as abominable as ever’. Packed as the Underground, this is as essential a guide to London as the A–Z.—Frances Wilson

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