Overheard Conversation & Inspiration
Spring News

A Revealing Subway Ride


"The Lovers," by Timothy Liu, is a cool poem that I glimpsed recently as I was leaving the shuttle that runs between Grand Central Terminal and Times Square in New York.

The trains were pretty empty that day, and right after I jumped back onto the shuttle to grab a photo of this work, I noticed a man there taking pictures of a young woman. She was wearing a coat, and underneath it, she was naked from the waist up. Facing the guy, she held the coat wide open as he snapped away. I had stumbled onto, well, I don't know what I'd stumbled onto, but it was a bit more than I expected at 9 a.m.

Anyway. Below I have a picture of some of the art represented with the poem. The original series of mosaics is installed at the subway stop for Lincoln Center. Titled "Artemis, Acrobats, Divas, and Dancers" (2001), it's by Nancy Spero. Both that art and the poetry fall under the auspices of the MTA Arts & Design program, which "encourages the use of public transit in the NYC region by presenting visual & performing arts."

When asked about why he writes, Timothy Liu told the Kenyon Review, "At its best, poetry is a calling, a practice, a guide. It helps me get where I want to be going."



Photos by ST.

The Poetry Friday roundup takes place at Elisabeth Norton's Unexpected Intersections today.


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Love the intersection between art and poetry, Susan. New York has always been a city with a commitment to public art. I also recall from my years living in NYC the 'Poetry In Motion' project, featuring poetry in subway carriages. It enabled me to hang onto a strap in a crowded carriage and read poetry as I journeyed home. What joy repeated readings of those poems provided. Thank you for reviving that memory. May your keen eye continue to deliver such simple treasure.

This is an amazing story of life in the subway or perhaps it is just one more quirky surprise of underground life. Having artwork to connect art and poetry is a great idea. The mosaic is beautiful but the visual display of a women half naked is just one sight that might make the news. The Naked Cowboy is another sight that continues to amaze visitors.

Oh, my ... and oh, MY! LOL. I love all the fun and weird and ahem, naked things that can surprise you in NYC. There is no where else in the world that the context of NYC provides "sense" for such oddness at 9 am. The art, the poem...I totally would have gone back to snap pics of it too. Love it!

Only in NYC! How lucky you are to live in a city that offers up "surprises" when you least expect it. Thanks for sharing the beautiful mosaic + Liu's poem -- love the idea of promoting mass transit via the arts. That morning backstory made me smile.

Alan, yes, this is one of the "Poetry in Motion" poems! With the newer trains now, they have a different placement. You're right about repeated readings; the works lend themselves to that.

Carol, now that you mention it, I wonder what the Naked Cowboy does in this weather. If I hadn't been thinking of Poetry Friday, I may never have had this adventure. Oh, a poem for Poetry Friday...and a whole lot more.

Jama, so true. The Municipal Art Society in NYC offers tours of the art in the subway stations, and one of these days I'm going to take all of them.

I love that poetry "helps me get where I want to be going" AND is a part of the getting there via public transit in the NYC region. Thank you for taking us along for the ride!

De nada! I'm grateful to the MTA's program for introducing me to Timothy Liu's work. Now I'm going to look for his books; there are many.

Fun mix to have Nancy Spiro's art with Timothy Liu's poetry, I think she would have liked that. I' m a fan of hers, though I've never seen these images before so thanks for sharing them. When I visit NYC I'm either writing down or taking pics of the poetry in the subways, and that tour sounds intriguing. When I get there again I'll have to look into it—Thanks for your rich post Susan!

You're so welcome, Michelle. When you visit, I definitely recommend seeing those mosaics at the Lincoln Center/66th stop of the #1 train! They're beautiful. Here is one of the Municipal Art Society tours: https://www.mas.org/events/subway-art-tour-five-3/

I enjoyed the wild ride of your art/poetry exploration, Susan. And I'm glad to hear the 'photo shoot' seemed to be consensual. :)

Yeah, me, too, Bridget! It did look like they were collaborating.

Poetry definitely led me on an adventure that day.

The last time I was in NYC I was with students & even then, they were exhilarated by, well, everything, & we did notice the poetry in various places, too. I'm rather glad they didn't see that photo shoot, but who knows? They may have seen 'something' & just didn't tell us adults. I like 'The Lovers" very much.

Isn't that poem good! I have shepherded four teenagers (my son & friends) around Midtown Manhattan when they were teens, but never a bigger group. That must be a challenge!

"It helps me get where I want to be going." What a great way to encapsulate what the practice of poetry can mean in our lives. Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem, and for being part of the Poetry Friday party this week!

Elisabeth, thank you for hosting! Poetry Friday is a great weekly deadline.

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