Harrow transport worker showcases art-inspired poetry at central London Tube station

From: Transport for London
Published: Wed Mar 13 2024

Harrow station customer service manager and writer Anthony Okolie showcases poetry for thousands to see at St James's Park station

  • Okolie is the second member of TfL staff to develop their literary talent with Art on the Underground programme
  • Literary works take inspiration from Art on the Underground's exciting programme, including the annual mural at Brixton Underground station
  • Full set of Poems on the Underground works, spanning almost 40 years, is now part of the Cambridge University Library archive
  • Poems exploring the theme of love in all its guises are now on Tubes and trains across the network

A poem by a creative transport worker from Harrow-on-the-Hill about a mural at Brixton station is now displayed at St James's Park station for the next year, as part of TfL's Art on the Underground's writer in residence scheme.

Talented Anthony Okolie's poem 'Ode to the Mother' is inspired by the large-scale public artwork by Jem Perucchini over the entrance of Brixton Underground station. 'Rebirth of a Nation,' responds to the diverse narratives of the area and in recognition of the local murals painted in Brixton in the 1980s. The bright and reverent mural draws from the Ivory Bangle Lady, the name given to the North African occupant of an ancient grave dated to around the 4th century, which Okolie says "conjured the notion of the strong women and mothers often taken for granted and seldom acknowledged as much as they could be."

'Ode to the Mother' has launched as an artwork poster on the platform of St James's Park station, and is on view for a year, with the 45-line poem arranged across four panels.

Anthony has worked for TfL for six years as a Customer Service Manager at Harrow-on-the-Hill station. As a creative writer and filmmaker in his spare time, he is inspired by history, psychology and the so-called 'mundane' aspects of everyday life, portraying authenticity and realism in his work and highlighting the different perspectives of people going through similar, if not the same, routines and emotions. By day, Anthony helps with the smooth and safe daily operation of the busy interchange in northwest London, helping people get to where they need to be on the Metropolitan line.

Art on the Underground's Writer in Residence scheme was established in 2022 to highlight and amplify the creative voices within TfL, creating engaging responses to art across the network.

Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries, Justine Simons OBE, said:

'Anthony Okolie's poetry celebrating the strength of women and mothers will be a delightful new addition to London's transport network.

'Not only do our TfL workforce deliver a brilliant transport service, they have a host of remarkable talents and I can't wait to see and read these poems on the underground as we build a better London for everyone.'

Eleanor Pinfield, TfL's Head of Art on the Underground, said:

'TfL's diverse workforce is full of untapped talent and it's been fantastic to see our resident writers showcase their writing skills alongside their operational roles. The range of works exhibited with our Art on the Underground programme provides rich inspiration for writing about important themes such as gender equality, while St James's Park Tube station is the perfect place for Okolie's work to be seen by thousands of Londoners and visitors to the capital.'

Art on the Underground Writer in residence, Anthony Okolie, said:

'To have this great honour bestowed upon me by Art on the Underground was a truly humbling experience and I'm eternally thankful. I felt the weight of responsibility to carry on from the exceptional writings of the inaugural resident writer, Ayesha Kundi. I hope my poem can resonate with and perhaps intrigue whoever gets the opportunity to read it. I also hope others are inspired, as much as I was, to share their creativity in the upcoming open call for Writer in Residence next year.'

Okolie's first piece to be displayed with Art on the Underground was 'DESCEND and DISSENT', written in response to the 2023 Art on the Underground performance by with artist Barby Asante last year.

The first writer in residence was Customer Service Assistant Ayesha Kundi, who gave a spoken word performance at partner Uniqlo's flagship London store earlier this month. Her poem 'Stooped in Courage,' which was previously displayed at St James's Park station, was inspired by artist Rhea Storr's 'Uncommon Observations: The Ground that Moves Us' at Heathrow T4, Notting Hill Gate, Bethnal Green and Stratford Underground stations, and artist Shanti Panchal's mural 'Endurance' at Brixton Underground station.

Entries and exits at St James's Park have increased since the pandemic, reaching a peak of almost 250,000 on Sunday 23 April last year, the day of the London Marathon. [1]

TfL is championing poetry in other areas of its operations, and the publication of 'DESCEND and DISSENT' at St James's Park station comes as Cambridge University Library acquires the full Poems on the Underground archive, to supplement the university's growing archive and manuscript holdings relating to contemporary poetry. Poems from the collection are also part of the holdings at the London Transport Museum and the Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre in Waterloo, London.

Within the archive, London has provided inspiration for several of the poets whose work has featured on transport network, with 51 poems referencing the capital. In his 2001 poem 'The London Breed', the late Benjamin Zephaniah describes the diversity of the capital: 'The music of the world is here, Dis city can play any song, They came to here from everywhere, Tis they that made dis city strong.'

A new set of poems, the first to appear on trains this year, have been introduced. The poems explore themes of love - of persons and places, welcomed, scorned, remembered, rediscovered - reflecting the diversity of human experience. Works of classic authors Byron and Brontė sit alongside more contemporary poems from Seni Seneviratne and Marjorie Lofti.

Notes to editors

  • The open call for the next Art on the Underground Writer in Residence will open to TfL staff in June
  • 'DESCEND and DISSENT' is available at https://art.tfl.gov.uk/projects/art-on-the-underground-staff-writer-in-residence-2023/
  • The Art on the Underground Writer in Residence is a creative opportunity for a TfL staff member to develop their writing by working with TfL's contemporary art programme Art on the Underground over a period of six months. It aims to highlight and amplify the creative voices within TfL, creating engaging responses to Art on the Underground's ongoing programme
  • [1] The TfL Network Demand Dashboard is available here - tfl.gov.uk/network-demand-report
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