April is National Poetry Month! A poem exists for every occasion, every place, every time, every theme, every mood, every moment, and every person. The variety of poems here appear in different shapes and voices. The one thing they all have in common is that they are all poems about transportation.
Transportation on the surface does not seem to be poetic. However, have you ever seen Poetry In Motion? Subway cars across New York City display poems for riders to read. According to poetrysociety.org, “It was launched by MTA New York City Transit and the Poetry Society of America in 1992.” Getting from one place to another has its poetic moments, both gloomy and bright. Here are a few.
“Transport” by Safia Elhillo
This poem appears with a lot of white space across the page. It’s almost as if it’s in two jagged columns. The speaker begins “sour heat of the taxi cab my thighs stuck by / sweat to the leather.” So many of us have been there. It also shows the discomfort of having a stranger drive you around: “the driver’s eyes displace me & leave behind a list of ways i can be hurt.”
For more from Safia Elhillo, read The January Children
“An Evening Train” by Timothy Liu
This poem looks at a train ride from close by. Sometimes trains appear majestic. This poem shows them as dangerous. The speaker says, “We warn our children / not to lay their ears down on the tracks / in wintertime.” Additionally, it juxtaposes the train screaming by with a story of a tragic zoo accident.
For more from Timothy Liu, read Luminous Debris: New & Selected Legerdemain 1992-2017.
“[A Subway Ride]” by Joseph O. Legaspi
Here’s a neatly structured prose poem, much like they boxy structure of a subway car. Think about those missed connections on Craigslist. Think about how Dharma and Greg lock eyes on the subway when they’re children (and then meet up again as adults!). This poem is a subtle contemplation of seeing someone who catches your eye during a commute: “His artfully unkempt strawberry blonde head sports outsized headphones.” The speaker offers such detail in a very short moment of a ride.
For more from Joseph O. Legaspi, read Threshold.
“Untitled [Sitting across from me on the bus a Chinese]” by Frances Chung
This poem is another of observation. This time, the ride is on the bus. It’s also another quiet moment. The speaker observes a Chinese family on their way to Chinatown. This poem shows how poetry is really all about moments in time in the same way a bus ride is a moment in time. The speaker observes the very mundane activity: “They are headed to Chinatown with shopping bags of groceries.” The scene is so familiar, yet we don’t know who they are, where they’ve been, or what will happen afterwards.
For more from Chung, read Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple: The Poems of Frances Chung.
“Blast” by Marie-Elizabeth Mali
Take Union Square, add a busker, and then add a Hindu deity, and you’ve got a poem about a subway ride here. Mali juxtaposes the speaker’s unsettling post-dentist visit with spiritual epiphany, and it all takes place in a crowded subway car. The speaker laments her “face half numb” and also feels anger at another passenger who “sits on [her]” and “shoves.”
For more from Mali, read Steady, My Gaze.
We can learn a lot from the kinds of transportation we ride. Through observations, poems like these can emerge. Head on over to Book Riot’s extensive poetry archive for more poems to celebrate National Poetry Month.