Since 1992, the Poetry in Motion program has placed some 200 poems on New York City subways and buses.

New York City Celebrates 25 Years of Poetry in Motion

An exhibit by the New York Transit Museum looks back on the program that turned subways and buses into the city’s biggest poetry slam.

Back in 1992, 15 years before the debut of the Apple iPhone and at least 20 years before you could actually use an iPhone on the subway, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority attempted to divert diversion-less straphangers by initiating an unlikely partnership with the Poetry Society of America. The program, dubbed Poetry in Motion, presented card-stock placards adorned with works by poets both known and, theretofore, unknown. Walt Whitman was first: An artfully printed excerpt from his 1855 poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” hung at eye level, amid the usual ads for personal injury attorneys, quick bail bonds, and Dr. Zizmor. In the quarter-century since, Poetry in Motion has offered for New Yorkers’ consideration more than 200 poems, from the adorable to the inscrutable.

Emily Dickinson’s “Tell All the Truth” in a Poetry in Motion subway card | Corcoran

Emily Dickinson’s “Tell All the Truth” joined the Poetry in Motion canon in 1992.

Through October 28, the New York Transit Museum’s Gallery Annex & Store in Grand Central Terminal presents the free exhibit, Poetry in Motion at 25, featuring dozens of original subway and bus poem cards. “Since nationalities representing the entire world ride on New York City’s public transit we try to reflect that world,” said one of the program’s founders and a former president of the PSA, Molly Peacock, for the preface of the lovely new collection, The Best of Poetry in Motion. “We look for poems that will speak to all enthicities, genders, ages. We look for voices that will stimulate the exhausted, inspire the frustrated, comfort the burdened, and enchant even the youngest passengers.”

If you plan to be near Grand Central on Tuesday, September 25, New York Transit Museum Senior Curator Amy Hausmann will host a 2 p.m. tour of the Poetry in Motion exhibit and lead a spirited discussion of its place in the hearts—and the commutes—of New Yorkers.

The “Poetry in Motion at 25” at Grand Central's New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex | Corcoran

“Poetry in Motion at 25” is at Grand Central’s New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex through Oct. 28.

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