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John Lundberg

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Poetry Intrudes, Delightfully, On a New York City Weekday

Posted: 04/17/11 01:54 PM ET

I stopped by the library at Poets House on Thursday morning on my way to an appointment with my tax advisor, who'd been pricking me with needles of stress all week with his vague references to how much money he thought I would owe the government and, more ominously, him. It turned out that, in addition to being four days from the tax deadline, it was National Poem in Your Pocket Day. To mark the occasion, Poets House was handing out four beautiful, pocket-sized poems. I decided to keep "blessing the boats" by Lucille Clifton, as the contrast between my stress that morning and the tone of her poem was so staggering.

and may you in your innocence
sail from this to that

There is something comforting about carrying a poem in your pocket. The rest of the day, that little talisman of blessing, so antithetical to the muddy and necessary aspects of life, helped me to keep things in perspective.

It turns out that Poets House was handing out its poems all over the neighborhood, and I wasn't alone in appreciating them. Julie Shapiro, in an article for the Manhattan news site DNAinfo.com, interviewed a couple of steamfitters working in the area who read the poems on their lunch break, including this excerpt from "Passing Through: A Haiku Sequence" by Cor van den Heuvel:

evening coming
people rushing home to change
into other lives

Both men really appreciated the verse (you can read the entire exchange here), and 56-year-old Ed Oakley said, "It's great. It just says what it is: People leave their job, and they change into different lives. I can't wait to change my life at 5 o'clock."

It's a blessing, then, that more people will have the chance to meditate on the poems over the next few months: Poets House has teamed with the Port Authority to display the poems, along with a few others, in PATH trains and in stations throughout the spring.

And there's even more good news for poetry, as New Yorkers might soon see poems popping up in subway cars again. The New York Times' "City Room" reported last week that the MTA is in talks with the Poetry Society of America to bring poems back to the New York City subways. MTA chairman Jay H. Walder "really loves poetry," according to an anonymous MTA official. The deal isn't done just yet, but the talks are a promising sign. If last Thursday was any indication, a little verse can do a lot for New Yorkers. Sometimes even a poet needs to be reminded that there's more to life than stress, taxes and the grind of subway wheels.