The Northern Line is the first collection of poetry by Dominic Stevenson who has a self-professed desire that his writings engage with global discussions surrounding societal, gender, sexual, and educational equality. This cause is very quickly evident in the language and themes of his poems and the book is, in the poet’s own words, one of ‘liberty and positivity’.
For the most part, The Northern Line consists of two major threads which feed into an overall theme. On the one hand Stevenson has written poems dealing with global issues and on the other hand there are poems on a more intimate level which deal with the progression of a relationship. The juxtaposition of love poetry and poetry about inequality seems to have been an intentional construct used to underline the poet’s message that you cannot take the individual out of the bigger picture, indeed the bigger picture should, in the final reckoning, be about the individuals that comprise it.
As we read what is a motivational call to moral and socially conscious arms, we are reading against the objectification of the individual in contemporary society; against a world in which the pain and suffering of an individual is of no concern to those in power whose decisions cause it and against a way of thinking that sees human life as, at best, merely a statistic, collateral damage or at worst, irrelevant.
As we read about the glories of personal love, we are viewing an individual in his rightful place; at the centre of the stage, worthy to be considered beside global discussions. Each global issue, after all, is caused by and effects millions of individual stories. In short, it is people’s happiness which should matter above all else and doing right by your neighbour, literal and metaphorical, is part of this and is inextricably linked to issues of societal, gender, sexual and educational equality.
The ‘liberty and positivity’ quoted earlier, comes from a poem called Carry Those which talks of ‘those that hide from life, / whose dignity is stripped, / and queue for pittance’ but who, in the words of another poem, The Last Workhouse in London, often have a ‘dignity preserved by (a) / black belt in survival’. The Northern Line takes us from Bangladeshi factory fires and lines such as ‘the beggar is a rich man / practicing a poor profession’ to romantic meals is Paris, the violent loss of love and regrets of sweetly-sad reminiscence.
However, there is a stop on the journey of the work that, in time honoured TFL style, acts rather like the “via” in train announcements. The Northern Line is a work which runs on the tube line from global to individual via a small number of poems about commuting from Kennington to High Barnet. The whole collection has an urban backdrop but the poems about traveling on the Northern Line act as a fluid conduit between the two destinations of Stevenson’s words. Anyone used to tube travel in London, will recognise the narrator’s position as he describes himself as a “line ranger” in Tube Strangers, Empty Carriage, Last Tube Home and Vampire Commuters.
I would like to leave you with three quotations which summarise the tone of the collection, one from each motif of The Northern Line.
‘We are the slag your actions leave behind, / as you continue to douse the spirit / of my neighbours / less lucky than I.’
‘We dipped toasted bread / in vinegar and olive oil, / and I kissed the fortress / of your smile.’
‘The last tube, from Kennington / to High Barnet, / cleanses me from the misconception that / I am unequal / to the challenge of today.’