28 May 2011

The MTA’s Poetry in Motion Redux

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority discontinued its participation in the “Poetry in Motion” campaign a few years ago. Brief poems about all kinds of journeys, these little posters were in subway cars and city buses, where otherwise we were accustomed to seeing far less artful advertising.

The program was immensely popular, not least because, for most of us, this was the only serious poetry we were likely to read all year. For a few seconds, we could almost believe we were like commuters in other cities, who can listen to NPR on the way to work — which New York subway riders cannot do, since we can’t get radio, phone, or Internet reception in the tunnels.

Although the Poetry Society of America continues “Poetry in Motion” in other cities, and has bought space in New York buses, subway riders are far more likely to see the MTA’s ubiquitous self-promotion nowadays. These ads announce the MTA’s profound concern for us and the manifold improvements it’s making to every part of its vast system of reduced services, rising fares, unreliable equipment, and nightmarish conditions.

Far be it from me to point out that the MTA might have gained more money to pay for those improvements if it sold bus and subway advertising to others, rather than claiming so many spots for itself.

Instead, I'll merely say there’s really no reason the MTA couldn’t pursue its “public awareness campaign” in verse — salvaging a little of the spirit of the poetry campaign even while pursuing a different goal. Herewith, a few examples.

Yes, I’m taking another swipe at the MTA.

Select Buses, On the Move

Select Buses, in express lanes,
Will speed you night and morn.
Just pre-board pay — You’re on your way!
Unless something goes worng.
Perhaps the fares miscalculate,
Or else the bus is running late,
There’s no way to correct it.
Yet there’s no cause, to make complain’s,
For you have been Selected.

The Heavenly Help Machine

We used to hire human beings
To talk to you or sell a token,
But now we have the Help Machines,
Which do all that — except when broken.

Our New Text Alerts

When train service goes from bad to worse,
We’ll send you handy text alerts!
But since the subway’s Internet-free,
Our text alerts you’ll never see.

The Countdown Clock

While waiting for the train to come
You’ve often stood and wondered
But thanks to our new service signs,
You’ll know just what you’ve squandered:
The time that would be better spent
Pursuing love and merriment,
And fleeting joys of passing youth.
But too late now — and that’s the truth!

We’re Making Improvements, Non-Stop!

Oh, don’t you love the MTA?
We’re constantly improving
The years of breakage and decay,
The trains that weren’t moving!
Neglect, abuse: we’re working on
It! All problems soon will all be gone!
We’re conscientious, you might say;
Our work is never ended!
We care so much — now go away!
This train has been suspended.

Inspired by an earlier subway campaign:
“She’s a home-loving girl,
But she loves high society’s whirl!
She adores the Army, the Navy as well.
At poetry and polo, she’s swell.”

-- “Miss Turnstiles,”
Lyrics by Comden and Green
From Bernstein’s On the Town

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