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Award-Winning Poets Write For Passersby In New York


In New York City, commuters traveling near ground zero today were greeted by an unusual sound - typewriters. And tapping away on them - poets writing verse on demand. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang stopped by to see some of them at work in lower Manhattan.

BOB HOLMAN: Ready, bring them on over; here we go.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Poet Bob Holman is meeting commuters any which way they came.

HOLMAN: So it looks like you ran down here, Chris.

SANCHEZ: I ran nearby.

HOLMAN: Where did you run from?

SANCHEZ: I ran along the East River.

WANG: A few more questions and about five minutes later and out comes a poem.

HOLMAN: A poem that runs from the East River to the Brooklyn Bridge every day is every other day, and today even when it's raining. But today, it was clear as a bridge and I was not alone.

WANG: This poem, written by Holman, is just one of the many works created by more than 20 poets today. They're part of a daylong session organized by the Poetry Society of America and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs public transit in New York. The idea came from New York State poet laureate Marie Howe, who says this is a way to bring poetry into the lives of more people.

MARIE HOWE: Poetry brings us to our senses. Poetry calls us into the present moment like nothing else. You know, when you read a poem or when someone says a poem to you, you're actually in one place at one time and you collect yourself to hear it.

KEITH THOMPSON: I'm a statistician. I got one poem. It's for her. It's for me. I'm a statistician

WANG: Keith Thompson of Bellport, N.Y., reads the first lines of a semi-biographical poem written for him and one of his granddaughters. His daughter-in-law, Missy Gibey, says he almost didn't show up.

MISSY GIBEY: I think he was rather skeptical (laughter) but he did come along, and we're so happy he did.

WANG: And it turns out, so is Thompson.

THOMPSON: I wish we had more poets and fewer electronic technician type people, of which I myself confess I am one. It's such a delicate, fragile, sensitive way that people have of expressing their emotions.

RACHEL ELIZA GRIFFITHS: Oh, my gosh, look how sweet he is. How old is he?

ZENON PEREZ: He's 1-year-old.

GRIFFITHS: One-year-old.


WANG: Zenon Perez shows poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths a photo of his baby son eating corn on the cob. Perez is on a business trip from Houston.

PEREZ: And I'm just actually walking to a seminar that I'm attending.

WANG: Oh, what do you do?

PEREZ: I work for an insurance company.

WANG: And he's feeling a little homesick for his son, so Griffiths writes a poem for Lucas.

GRIFFITHS: Dear sweet Lucas, keeper of corn and beaut,y keeper of your father's love. Dear Lucas, for the Angels that walk next to your entire family, for the grace they offer on bright plates of light, as your name is light and gift to all of us.

PEREZ: Wow, perfect.

WANG: Perez says waiting in line for 15 minutes was worth it.

PEREZ: You know, I’m not a person of words, so for somebody else with such an inspiration, providing this is a beautiful thing.

WANG: A beautiful thing he'll bring home to baby Lucas and his mother. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.