This year the Poetry Society of America is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Poetry in Motion—the program that brings poems to subways and buses across the country. The 92-year-old literary nonprofit is printing newly designed posters, sponsoring a poetry contest, and hosting readings in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City.
Since its 1992 launch in New York, Poetry in Motion has expanded its reach to over 13 million daily commuters in 14 U.S. cities, including brand-new programs in Minneapolis and Fresno, California. Inspired by a similar initiative of London Transport called Poems on the Underground, the program features a series of poems (and excerpts of poems) printed on posters and placed in the ad space of subway cars and buses, which is donated by local transit authorities.
Poems featured on the posters are selected by a committee of members from PSA in conjunction with local coordinators, including transit authority employees, representatives from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and poetry professors. The committee's task is to assemble a harmonious gathering of poetic voices, both classic and contemporary. "We like to have a whole range of sensibility and ethnic range, and some translations," says Alice Quinn, executive director of PSA.
Among the dozen poems chosen for the anniversary posters are selections by William Wordsworth, Aharon Shabtai, T.S. Eliot, and Fanny Howe. In the last 10 years Poetry in Motion has posted over five hundred poems, and a large selection of these will be read at events throughout the year. The final event, which Quinn calls "a real jamboree gala," will take place on October 10 at Symphony Space in New York City, and will include performances by subway musicians as well as readings by Sandra Cisneros, Tess Gallagher, Nikki Giovanni, and Paul Muldoon. Los Angeles and Chicago hosted similar celebrations in April.
This spring New Yorkers who dream of reading their own poems on their morning commutes can enter the Poetry in Motion contest. The three winning poems—in the categories of child, young adult, and adult—will be posted in subways and buses next year. The deadline is June 29. For more information, visit the PSA Web site at www. poetrysociety.org.
Eleanor Henderson is a fiction writer who lives in New York City.