Monday, April 5, 2010

Making Poetry Public

Recently, I learned that the British Council Arts division works to make poetry a public priority with their campaign called Poems on the Underground. As part of this project, the council selects six poems every season to post in their "tubes" (subways, in American English). This is no small dedication. There are 3,000 of these poem posters placed in London subways four times a year. And, this effort started in 1986, making this a more than two decade experience.

New York City also uses subway space to promote poetry on its Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) lines. This effort is called Poetry in Motion. It started in 1992 and has promoted many great American poets ever since.

Now, there are no subways or even public transportation here in rural Maine. But, are there ways to capture the essence and spirit of this project on a smaller scale? Are there ways to promote poetry in public spaces where children and adults may be surprised or inspired by some beautiful lines of poetry?

Last year, my students and I participated in a flickr group called Free Verse. This group, created by the Academy of American Poets, asks participants to recreate "lines from a favorite poem written off the page in an unexpected or ephemeral way." The collection of images in this group has grown since it first started. There are hundreds of lines of poetry recreated in these pictures, and most are beautiful and inspiring to see.

What's most important to me as a teacher and lover of poetry is that students and others see poetry as dynamic and not static. I want students to feel that they have the "right" to play with words, whether those words have been published or not. (Of course, they should cite the original work in their recreation.) I don't want poetry to get left behind in our digital age, so ideas like this flickr grop and London's Underground poetry series lets me think that poetry will survive quite well into the next millennium.

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