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'Cities are built with language': how poetry feeds on urban life


The excitement and frustrations of city life have inspired poets from 18th-century Grub Street to the 50s Beats and modern-day rappers. But can poetry actually help us make cities better?

I see the F train’s twin headlights blooming into the station.
When I close my eyes, its warm wind sweeps hair from my face,
the way my grandmother did with her hands, to see my eyes.”

The feeling created by these words, from American poet Erika Meitner’s 2010 poetry collection Ideal Cities, will ring familiar to nearly all who live the urban experience. But the relief of seeing a pair of headlights peek through the tunnel, or the sensation of the hot air of a passing train, are so mundane they can often go uncelebrated save for a fleeting moment.

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay
Lull’d by the coil of his crystalline streams”

There is this energy and aggression and speed in a city that lends itself to poetry

You know the wild bushes at the back of the flat, the ones that scrape the kitchen window the ones that struggle for soil or water, and fail where the train tracks scar the ground?

The form of a city changes faster, alas, than the human heart

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