A Shout-Out for Poetry From People Who Hate Poetry

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So I am on the train the other day…

…And I look over and I notice that the M.T.A. or someone has started in again with its (see above) Poetry in Motion campaign. Not that it matters to you, but Poetry in Motion is a probably self-explanatory public-service advertising campaign wherein poems or parts of poems take the place of ordinary ads in train cars.

So, you know, instead of pictures of acne-ravaged teenagers or hair-sprayed local news anchors or cans of beer, you get a poem. O.K.?

Most people probably don’t notice. Myself, I actually like poetry and often read poetry and, honestly, I don’t notice most of the time, either.

The M.T.A. has been doing this since 1992, or something like that. And for some reason, it stopped doing it in 2008. I don’t remember why. And according to a short Google search, the M.T.A. actually started doing Poetry in Motion again early last year.

The point of the story, though, is that the other day I am on the train and one minute I am looking at a not-that-interesting poem and then I turn my head to look in the other direction and I see this:

I know it’s blurry, but you get the idea.

I know it’s blurry, but you get the idea.

Obviously, it’s an ad for the campaign. But what made me drop my jaw — O.K., I didn’t really drop my jaw — was the utterly artless and thoroughly ironic ad copy. If I was any kind of photographer, or had the balls to point my phone for a bit longer at three complete strangers, you would be able to read it better. But it says this:

Many of you felt parting was not such sweet sorrow. So we’re bringing poetry back in a very artful way. Hopefully, you’ll feel transported.

Can you conceive of three sharper, more vicious kicks to the groin of a poetry-loving person?

I don’t know who or what the M.T.A. uses for projects like this. Interns, former motormen, a typewriter scrolled with paper and pitched out of an open window. I am not trying to be a mean guy, or anything.

But that is just stupid.

And it is stupid toward the wrong people to be stupid to. The guy who might genuinely be interested that there will be random poems here and there on a subway car is probably the guy who will realize how idiotic that ad is.


‘Yonder window.’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, if I really thought that “parting” with Poetry in Motion in 2008 was not “such sweet sorrow,” I wouldn’t be interested in seeing the stupid thing come back.

“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” of course, comes from the first balcony scene in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” You know the scene I mean. Romeo is skulking around in the dark under Juliet’s window, like a pervert, and suddenly she appears. “But, soft!” Romeo says, as if he didn’t know exactly what he was doing. “What light through yonder window breaks?”

Yadda, yadda.

At length, Juliet lays on Romeo a vaguely sadomasochistic line where she imagines him to be a pet bird tied to a string. He warms to the idea immediately. You can imagine his eyes bulging as he blurts, “I would I were thy bird.”

And she answers him:

Sweet, so would I:
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.*
Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

By “sweet sorrow,” Juliet means that she knows she will see Romeo again, and so leaving him isn’t really cause for concern. It’s sweet because she’ll be thinking of him. (Never mind that they both will soon be [spoiler!] dead.)

Not for nothing but in “West Side Story,” the sentiment is the same. Though, Maria (Juliet) is on a fire escape, not a balcony, and instead of holding forth with treacly patter from a distance, Tony (Romeo) announces with ungentlemanly (if you ask me) boldness, “I’m coming up.” After basically covering the same ground as in Shakespeare, it is clear that Tony has to go.

TONY: You see?
MARIA (touching his face): I see you
TONY: See only me

It’s the same idea. The boy says, I have to go. The girl says, that’s bad. But they both know it’s not. And what’s more, they’re both excited that it’s not. With “sweet sorrow,” with “I see you,” she is telling him that she will miss him. If she had, like the M.T.A. ad, said it was not sweet sorrow, that would be like she had said, Ciao, Romeo, baby; and just so you know, I will be mooning my face off to the very next spaghetti-sucking, tights-wearing goombah to stumble past my window. You don’t have to be an English major (pantywaist) to realize it, either.

From here, it’s hardly worth the time to go on.

To wit, I ask, Are they “bringing back poetry in an artful way”? The one reference to verse in the ad is completely fumbled. Which is to say it is the opposite of being artful. Which is to say it’s a little nauseating. I ask the M.T.A., Couldn’t you have dug a little deeper in your poetry drawer?

And third, speaking of a lack of art, every time I am on the subway, I literally feel transported. Not only do I feel that way, but that is actually what ends up happening. Is that how you want to conclude an advertisement that is supposed to be a celebration of poetry?

As my high school English teacher used to say, Ye, gods.

* I don’t think she really means “cherish.” I think she means what Rupert Brooke means, you know, when he wrote, “Even then, When two mouths, thirsty each for each, find slaking.” Slaking! (Wink.)



One thought on “A Shout-Out for Poetry From People Who Hate Poetry

  1. Pingback: No Ideas But in Things: Poetry as Exploration | The Dad Poet

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