I spotted it on an A-line subway car, riding from the Met up to the Cloisters: a poster with poetry on it. Right there in the dingy New York City subway, “Here,” by the poet Gary Snyder, with an illustration of primary-colored globes bursting out of a black-and-white sky. A surprising place to find poetry, but somehow it works, the art lighting up the dinginess, the words a little place to let your thoughts rest for a while from the city’s energetic chaos.
I watched for subway poems through the rest of that trip, and found a few more. Then once I got home I did a bit of research and discovered that poetry on the NYC subway goes all the way back to 1992, a program called “Poetry in Motion,” sponsored by The Poetry Society of America and MTA Arts & Design in New York City. Since its inception, the concept has spread to other cities, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot poems in public transit in places from Atlanta to Portland (with even, I’ve heard but never witnessed, some poems on Salt Lake City’s Trax).
By Alice Quinn and Billy Collins
As a poetry lover, I was happy to discover there is also a book about these traveling poems: The Best of Poetry in Motion: Celebrating 25 Years on Subways and Busses. In the introduction, poet Billy Collins explains what I couldn’t put into words at the sight of that first poem I glimpsed:
“A poem that you notice on a bus comes at you too fast for you to resist. You might even read it before you realize it’s a poem…Such unexpected encounters with poetry can provide a sudden sense of mental and even spiritual nourishment.”
The book is a collection of poems that have appeared on the subway or busses of New York. Some of them are illustrated, reproductions of the posters as they appeared on the train. As you read through these poems, you’ll discover just how brilliant the people who selected them are, as the poems are perfectly bite sized. You could read, ponder, and get to an ah-ha moment from one subway stop to the next, if that’s all the time you had. And since they are in a book—a small one you could slip into your backpack or purse—you don’t have to take the red eye flight to New York City, but can read them wherever you find yourself. The poems in this anthology are a perfect way to begin reading poetry (if you’re a newbie) or to discover unusual poems by favorite writers (if you, too, are a life-long poetry aficionado).
April is National Poetry Month, a great time to discover the pleasures of reading poetry. Want to find other poetry books? Check our display on the south wing main floor throughout April, or peruse the 808.81, 811 and 821 sections anytime!
Written by Amy Sorensen, Assistant Librarian