Covered with advertisements, the trains of the MBTA throw all kinds of promotions at their passengers, from informative signs about refugees to scandalous furniture ads. Mass Poetry, an organization created to explore poems and poets related to Massachusetts, initiated a program in April 2014 where they place poems in the advertisement spaces. With the help of Outfront Media to print and post the signs, poetry has expanded to various subway stations of the T.
Poetry on the T was inspired by New York’s Poetry in Motion in order to appeal to the creativity of MBTA passengers. Sara Siegel, program director of Mass Poetry, said that Mass Poetry wanted to contribute to a more enjoyable commute via public transportation because such routine becomes dull with such little variety.
“One of mass poetry’s main goals is to make poetry more accessible,” Siegel said. “Even now there’s this idea that poetry is something that you find in a library, or you find in academia, and it’s boring and old. We really want to make poetry something that anybody can access.”
Siegel explained that Poetry on the T prides itself in picking poets significant to Massachusetts, giving riders an opportunity to encounter the state’s history and current culture through the poetry of various Massachusetts writers. After a brief nine-month hiatus, the organization is currently featuring poems written by Mary Oliver, Jarita Davis, Charles Coe, Thomas Lux, Aracelis Girmay, Christina Davis, and Franz Wright.
In the past, the program has faced issues with funding, often unable to meet the high cost to advertise at stations. Usually, Mass Poetry will reach out to a variety of potential sponsors: often poetry partners, publishing companies, and writing organizations. Once they collect enough funding, the sponsors help decide what ought to be placed on the posters—the structure typically follows that the biggest donor chooses the poets and a few poems. Otherwise, if the month relies heavily on smaller donations, the sponsors will nominate poems and Mass Poetry will choose those that are displayed.
By decorating the public transit systems with various rotating works of literature, Mass Poetry crafts an environment that allows MBTA passengers to direct their energy toward creative understanding of the poetry. This program encourages even those riders inexperienced with poetry to find works they admire.
“[We] bring poetry to people in a place that they’re not expecting, and then make them realize that poetry can be a part of their daily life,” Seigel said.
Although they struggled to find sponsors this past year, Mass Poetry has made an effort to continuously reach out to potential funders as well as the MBTA in order to expand the program to a greater potential. Luckily, with Mary Oliver’s recently published book, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, Penguin Random House expressed interested in Poetry on the T and ultimately sponsored primarily the program for November to promote Oliver’s work.
Reconciling this problem for a short time, Seigel said that the program has recently initiated a partnership with the MBTA that allows Mass Poetry to utilize any unsold advertising space for Poetry on the T. This collaboration will provide Mass Poetry with a variety of stations and trains on which they can reach broader audiences.
In order for Poetry on the T to be accessible to all as Mass Poetry intends, the poems must be short and uplifting. Brevity is primarily a spatial issue, but the tone contributes to the public response to both the poems and the program. Ideally, Poetry on the T makes each rider’s day a little more pleasant, and people will continue to notice it. Besides allowing poetry to become less intimidating and more comprehensible to the people of Boston, Mass Poetry hopes that they will learn to appreciate the beauty of poetry and broaden their literary horizons with because of various intriguing works they see on the T.
“Mass Poetry was created in part to celebrate poets and poetry in the state—and doing great work—but also to just bring poetry to … people,” Seigel said.
Featured Image by Mass Poetry