October 11th, 2014 • Ross Martin
It's a rainy Saturday and The Best American Poetry blog features a story on Boston introducing poetry into its mass transit system.
Subway poetry isn't new. From the PERverse to the SUBverse, graffiti poetry has always lit up the underground. Here in New York, "Poetry In Motion" is the formal approach powered by the Poetry Society of America, resuscitated by the MTA in 2012. The Poetry Society thoughtfully (if not carefully) surfaces bright lines from classic poems and clever turns from poets whose subjects reflect the rich diversity of the city.
However, probably to conform with the MTA's mission to offend no one, poems are presented in benign rectangles with a "safe" visual aesthetic, certain to add nothing. Its designs are often childishly reductive or unnecessarily obvious.
(The worst offense of NYC's subway program, by far, is that it often publishes poems by Billy Collins.)
Boston is improving the model. Its interpretive design approach serves to enhance, add dimension and attract commuters who might otherwise have their heads stuck in the same device they've been staring at all day. Even when sad or contemplative, like this one from Amy Lowell, they fit perfectly into today's wet doldrums:
Boston is risking more than other cities because its poems often lean head first into the city's most raw and vulnerable spaces. Like this one, called "Marathon," by Nick Flynn:
The ambition behind both efforts and their corresponding websites feels good to just about any urban dweller open to a little something different in the cracks of the day. Why not?
A chance to stop and consider, in the dark wifi-less patches, more train traffic ahead of us.