The son of the return of Poetry in Motion

By · Published in 2011

Poetry has been noticeably absent from the subway of late.

For nearly two decades, placards of poetry greeted observant straphangers in various subway cars across New York City. While these bright spots of art and literature amidst the drabness of subway advertising proved popular, “Poetry in Motion” met its demise in 2008, and a similar program called “Train of Thought” replaced it. When the MTA rebranded its house ads, “Train of Thought” was axed, and New York’s literati were saddened.

Have hope though because the MTA may be searching for ways to restore poetry to the subway. Michael Grynbaum broke the news yesterday. The authority, he says, “has entered preliminary talks to revive Poetry in Motion.” He writes:

The transportation authority is discussing the matter with the Poetry Society of America, which helped coordinate the original “Poetry in Motion” campaign from its inception in 1992. The series, modeled on a similar program on the London Underground, brought Yeats and Browning into the unusual locale of a gritty subway train, peppering the usual Dr. Zizmor ads with classics of literary verse.

“Walder really loves the poetry; I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come back,” said an official at the transportation authority who is familiar with the plans, referring to the authority’s chairman, Jay H. Walder. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about discussions that were intended to be private.

The Poetry Society is said to be seeking a financial sponsor for the campaign, which would be a prerequisite. Officers at the society declined to comment.

If the poetry makes the subways seem friendlier, I’m all for it. Spotting a verse or two in the trains always brought a smile to my face. Even if the verses aren’t quite as out there as some, the return of “Poetry in Motion” would be welcome indeed.

Categories : Subway Advertising

23 Responses to “The son of the return of Poetry in Motion”

  1. ferryboi says:

    How about the MTA try something novel, like creating subway maps that actually make sense? Or putting strip maps in every car? Or creating a Manhattan-only subway map to go along with the city-wide map, and put them throughout trains so tourists don’t get all “WTF???” when looking at maps. Or how about the MTA clean the roll signs on older trains like the #1 or #3 trains, which are so dirty you can’t read them? Or how about…well, you get my point. If I want poetry, I’ll go to the f’ing library.

    • Jeff says:

      Both of these require similar actions (posting signage in trains/stations) and have similar effects: Poetry in Motion creates more pleasing conditions for those who appreciate art, and better signage and maps create more pleasing conditions for tourists. I’m not sure why you would immediately denounce one goal as inherently secondary to the other.

      Or are you one of those people who complain about education funding every time the Parks department fixes a drinking fountain?

      • ferryboi says:

        Not at all, I just think the MTA, as in Metropolitan TRANSIT Authority, should provide better signage and maps so that TRANSIT riders can be better informed about their TRANSIT options. I love to read on the subway and do it every day. But I don’t expect the TRANSIT agency responsible for providing TRANSIT to give me something to read while riding.

        • ferryboi says:

          And obviously it’s Metropolitan Transportation, not transit, but you get my point.

          • Jeff says:

            How do you feel about transit agencies which pipe classical music into stations in order to calm crowds? Sure, this isn’t directly related to the goal of providing transit services, but it’s an atmospheric improvement that can lead to improved behavior by riders. When riders are littering less and committing less crimes, said transit agency can spend a bit less money on station maintenance and crowd control, having made that initial investment in providing classical music. Are riders more likely to act civil in Grand Central Terminal or today’s Penn Station?

            Sounds silly, but human psychology is complex stuff. I know that everyone who comments on SAS is a perfect angel both underground and above, but the reality is the every day man is less likely to litter on a pristine street in Boston than they are your typically trash-strewn street in NYC.

            What about improved lighting, and other aesthetic but non-functional improvements to stations and trains? Again, these help create an environment in which riders are less likely to engage in destructive behaviors, creating a more pleasant experience for everyone.

            So art murals on station walls, playing music in stations, improved lighting conditions, architecturally interesting facilities, poetry… Where do we draw the line?

            • BrooklynBus says:

              How about just some adequate lighting so you can read the subway map on the mezzanines without remembering to bring a flashlight and placement so you don’t have to lay on the floor to see what is happening in Coney Island?

            • ferryboi says:

              I think esthetically pleasing things like piped-in music and good lighting are wonderful. Are you suggesting the MTA already provides this level of service on the subway? No, obviously they don’t. So until they get to that point, the MTA needs to take care of some VERY BASIC items like cleaning the damn trains and providing legible signs and maps, especially on board trains. Any $$ they are to spend on poetry should be secondary to cleaning, lighting and providing a safe atmosphere that makes people actually want to ride trains and buses.

              A lovely poem posted on a dirty wall with a screaming, pissy-smelling homeless man standing in front of it doesn’t exactly make on want to ride the train to work.

              • Jimmy says:

                The “Just Look Up” isn’t even always right. I was on the 7 and I decided to look up and it was a empty metal space. Ferryboi’s right. Stick a map there.

    • John says:

      The map makes sense. Surveys and studies have shown that most people can make sense of the map. If they didn’t, they would have changed it.

  2. petey says:

    i, otoh, agree completely with benjamin.

  3. Keith Dawson says:

    Has anyone noticed that the strip map at the bottom of those MTA posters could be read as musical notes on a staff? I don’t know enough music to know what it would sound like, but is it possible that the designers put that there on purpose, and that it spells out a tune of some sort?

  4. Scott E says:

    Maybe this time the poetry will be more apropos for the subways: “Clowns to the left of me / Jokers to the right / Here I am / Stuck in the Middle With You”

    • Quinn Hue says:

      No someone whipped these ads up in an hour or so. (People complained about the MTA paying graphic designers for these. It’s not bad, but it’s simple)

  5. Jesse says:

    This is great news, but when are they going to bring back Julio and Marisol?

    • Skip Skipson says:

      LOL! Bonus points to all the people that understand this reference. How many episodes were there in the series? 12-13?

      • Marsha says:

        I do! I LOLed twice–once with Julio and Marisol and first with Scott E.

        • SEAN says:

          Explane it for those who havent a clue on what you are talking about.


          • Skip Skipson says:

            These ads were all over the subway in the early 90’s. Here is a blurb about what these ads were about. They were a little controversial back then as I recall.

            Officials at the New York City Health Department have released the much-anticipated sixth and seventh episodes of “Decision,” a innovative and popular comic strip about AIDS awareness that debuted in the city’s subways four years ago. The latest installments continue the saga of Julio and Marisol, two estranged young lovers who clashed over safe-sex precautions. In the couple’s first appearance in May 1990, Julio storms out of Marisol’s apartment after she refuses to have sex without a condom. In subsequent strips, the pair discovers that one friend has died of AIDS and another friend, Raul, is dying. In the last episode, earlier this year, Julio and Marisol reconcile after meeting in Raul’s hospital room, and a new character, Rosa, confesses to Raul that she has HIV. The newest installments, which were released Wednesday, reveal that Rosa is actually an ex-girlfriend of Julio’s who is ashamed to tell him about her HIV status. According to Health Department spokesman Steve Matthews, it takes three to four months to create and execute new episodes for the soap-opera- style strip. He says the department welcomes ideas from the public and will continue to put out the strip as long as they see interest. “The company that handles advertising for the [subway system] tells us they know the episodes are popular because they’re stolen in great numbers,” says Matthews. He adds that the pictorial novellas, originally targeted at Latinos, have been translated into English by popular demand.

            • ferryboi says:

              Or to put it more succinctly, keep a hoodie on and you wont get HIV from your very loose girlfriend/boyfriend.

            • John Paul N. says:

              Why such a long lead time? The South Park creators have a week to get from concept to air. However, as long as it is executed well, I won’t complain about times.

              It’s a welcome change from the shock advertising the Health Department is known of as of late, the campaigns against obesity and smoking.

              • ferryboi says:

                Good point. Maybe if the Billionaire-in-Chief cooked up an ad campaign showing the negative health problems associated with a filthy, smelly, urine-soaked subway system. Maybe then the city would find some cash to pay cleaners to spray down the stations once or twice a year. Or a campaign to encourage the homeless not to take a steaming dump on the Herald Square walkway and let it sit there for 2 or 3 weeks. Imagine the images on those posters!

  6. gt hyt says:

    ?ouche. Sound arguments. Keep up the grwat effort.


  1. […] nearly a year to the day since initial rumors resurfaced, New York City Transit announced the triumphant return of Poetry in […]

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>