Greenpoint, October, 2015

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Duck Days

Aw we begin our search for poems to expand and enrich the MTA's Poetry in Motion series, or just create our own damn series, let's establish a few criteria. The poem should be:
  • Short enough to read once, preferably twice, between any two stations on a local;
  • Speak to New Yorkers in some particular manner (not necessarily about New York or the subway); and
  • Be provocative--intellectually, emotionally, physically, morally...
We begin where we may well end up, with Eileen Myles' "Truth." I think it meets the criteria to a a "T." Bonus: It is about riding the subway or trying to. Double bonus: It comes with its own art, courtesy of Ken and Ann Mikolowski's Alternative Press, where it appeared as bookmark in 1971 (#13). Note the imprint of the subway token. The photo below is from the Rare Books Room of the New York Public Library.


It's not fun
to be 31

the subway

How quickly and elegantly this short poem gives us the experience of being young (though not so young) and without means in the city. Quite a different approach from Tracy K. Smith's "The Good Life," in the MTA series. Suddenly, that relatively short poem feels like a novel.

Lovely how the spelling of "turnstyle" rhymes with the poet's signature: Eileen Myles. I emailed the poet to ask permission to reproduce the poem here--as far as I know, the only place it has ever appeared outside of the Alternative Press issue (43 years ago!). I asked for associations she may have now with the poem. Here is her reply: "It was certainly directly out of the experience of being broke and feeling too old to bed doing what I was doing, i.e., ducking under the turnstyle for a free ride."

How old were you the last time you ducked or jumped a turnstile?


  1. This is great! And a great new series for BTBQE - look forward to more. You touched on something that has been bugging me about MTA subway adverts for the ones about the lottery implying that all we think about is money (remember those - "what will you think about if you don't have to think about money?"). And others that send a subtle and not-so--subtle message that money is the most important thing. Maybe it is another series to be considered or maybe I will find some related transit poems...

  2. Robyn, thanks for your comment. Yes, subway ads deserve their own series. Maybe it is the sense of captivity in a small space that makes them even more oppressive than when they are on billboards or the side of buses. Please do suggest poems for the series!