Friday, January 11, 2008

The words of the poets are written on the subway walls

The act of riding the subway in NYC is a de-personalizing, de-humanizing, alienating, fucking drag. However, there is one small thing I’ve taken solace in over the past 15 years, and that is the “Poetry in Motion” entries which reside in amongst crappy ads for local dermatologists, awful pitches to Estudiar Ingles, and various and sundry other patent rip-offs. For those who don’t live around these parts, I should explain that the “Poetry in Motion” program selects verses from classic and not-so-familiar poems, and puts them up in amongst the horrible ads, making for some little glimmer of aesthetic trekking as we all go to and from work during rush hour.

The entries have ranged from Shakespeare to Stephen Crane, Emily Dickinson to Kenneth Koch, and Robert Frost to mine own childhood fave, Ogden Nash. At points the verses are simply pleasant diversions, at others they are downright touching and timely. For examples of the deeply moving, I have to point to a rather sad bit by the otherwise glib-and-brilliant Mr. Nash that certainly woke me up one day when I was returning from some dismal office I inhabited: “People expect old men to die/They do not really mourn old men. Old men are different. People look/at them with eyes that wonder when…/People watch with unshocked eyes;/But the old men know when an old man dies.” For the timely, I have to note that when Kerry was running against the Chimp in Charge in 2004, these words by Yeats never sounded more topical: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” (Let’s hope that won’t be the case this year.)

“Poetry in Motion” is a gorgeous bit of art in the middle of the worst, most dismal rides you can get in the city. The web page for the program (which for some reason hasn’t been updated to include the 2007 choices, and the page does need a proofreader to check the names….) can be found below the image.

Poetry in Motion

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