Poetry in Motion; When Three North East Poets Set out to Compare the Tyneside and Moscow Metro Systems, Things Didn't Go Wholly to Plan, as Martin Green Finds Out

Article excerpt

ARMED with a battered copy of Three Men in a Boat, a trio of Tyneside poets stepped on to the Tyneside Metro in Newcastle. Their destination: The Metro in Moscow.

And, like their fictional predecessors in Jerome K. Jerome's classic yarn, they soon found themselves out of their depth, adrift and lost in a different world.

Their vodka-fuelled exploits have become the talk of the poetry world and resulted in a new book, Three Men on the Metro.

Andy Croft, Bill Herbert and Paul Summers all live in the North East and use the Metro all the time.

They wanted to compare it with what is arguably the greatest metro system in the world and Arts Council England helped them to realise their ambition.

The Moscow Metro is a collection of 'people's palaces' - stunning feats of architecture packed with art, chandeliers, mosaics, grand pillars, sculptures and stained glass.

Its stations are named after Soviet principles and historic events, as well as Mother Russia's great writers, artists and scientists.

They are constructed using marble and materials from all over the country's vast hinterland.

And the trains run on time, one arriving in every station every 80 seconds.

Bill, 47, professor of poetry and creative writing at Newcastle University, said: "My favourite station on the Newcastle Metro is probably the Haymarket.

"It is a very deep station and it got us thinking about going further down. Some of the Moscow stations are 300ft underground.

"The underground is a great metaphor - we wanted to go deeper into the Russian psyche."

The word "Metro" comes from the Greek "mitera", which means mother.

Bill said: "The Metro is an extremely important part of our city - it's the lifeblood that carries us around.

"When you go down into the Metro you are returning to the womb of the city."

Bill's first poem, Monumentsky, Haymarketiy, Centralskaya, starts the ball rolling, reflecting on a life-changing journey.

But it was not all plain sailing.

Andy, 52, from Middlesbrough, who also writes non-fiction books, said: "The first time I visited Moscow and saw the Metro stations, I was completely overwhelmed. Amazing!

"So much history, art, culture, geology and technology in one small space -and none of the commuters even seemed to notice!

"Then, late one night, tired, I put my feet on one of the seats and was told by a rather scary-looking skinhead to take them off.

"In the UK, public spaces belong to no-one.

This was clearly a public space over which people still felt a large degree of ownership."

Bill also got on the wrong side of a member of the militsya - somewhere between a policeman and a soldier - when taking photographs in the station.

He said: "You are not supposed to take photographs in the station. …

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