If you’ve been a passenger of Boston’s T (our subway system) during the past six months, then you’ve probably seen a poem poster in the spots where advertising should be. Mass Poetry (the organization I work for) has provided Boston commuters with poems by local poets to replace the glut of ads on the T.
And they are lovely.
Why put poetry on the T?
The trains are a point of connection. Riders are there for a short time, but they are continuously transitioning from one environment to the next. Rarely do we speak to one another. What better place is there to introduce something lovely for a few moments? What better way to introduce an element of surprise and wonder in an otherwise ordinary commute?
Since the first posters were created this past April for National Poetry Month, the response has been overwhelmingly, amazingly positive. A poem on subways is nothing new. New York City, Chicago, and London are just a few cities that have been the beneficiaries of verse on public transportation. Inn Boston, there have been prior efforts to put poetry on the T system and commuter rails. But there seems to be groundswell of local efforts to put art in creative public spaces in the Commonwealth in recent years. My hope is that the government and the private sector come together to come up with resources to support more efforts such as like this nationwide.
The poster design is simple yet eye-catching, with more emphasis placed on the words.
Some of the feedback we’ve heard has come from folks who discover a poem that spoke to them at the right moment. Those poems provide a lift or a simple moment of connection, giving the reader something they didn’t know they needed until that moment. The poem posters remind us all about the power of words and the value of community. It also creates visibility for poetry at a time when people are hungry for it.
That’s what it felt like when we featured Nick Flynn’s poem “Marathon” this past April, one year after the Boston Marathon bombings. We wanted to show our support for the city and its people, and that poem seems to be a touchstone for many in the greater Boston area.
After our Indiegogo campaign launched in May, we raised the needed funds to keep the program going through the summer. UMass Boston picked up the costs for September to support their faculty poets, Joyce Peseroff, Jill McDonough, and Lloyd Schwartz. And while we are still trying to raise funds, poems are running on the Red line through Boston, Cambridge, and Dorchester. Like many organizations, we rely on individual donations for the program, but the hope is to find corporate sponsors to keep the program going.
We know that efforts like this broaden the audience of poetry readers, bring poetry to readers of all ages, and have the ability to transform people’s lives. Sometimes all we need is that moment of connection to get us to wherever it is we’re meant to be.
(Special thanks to the beautiful and talented Laurin Macios, Program Director for Mass Poetry.)