Birds & Ada Limón
Hot Shakespeare Summer, Act I

Talking about the Subway


This is a quick discussion with the University of Pennsylvania's Anna Safford and Al Filreis about a poem about the New York subway. (Or is it really about the subway? I'll let y'all decide.) I happily bumped into Vincent Katz's "On the Subway" this morning while reading around in the curriculum for Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, Penn's big, free Coursera course. (I'm a community TA there, and will put in a plug for the excellent The Difference Is Spreading: Fifty Contemporary Poets on Fifty Poems, edited by Filreis and Safford.)

I especially liked reading "On the Subway" and hearing Anna and Al chat about urban transportation because I'm currently grounded with The Covid. Not a bad case at all, but of course it derailed all my mid-June/end-of-the-school-year plans, as well as commuter-train and subway excursions. Fortunately I've felt well enough to read! I just finished and highly recommend Ada Calhoun's Also a Poet: Frank O'Hara, My Father, and Me (Grove, 2022). Vincent Katz is one of the people Calhoun interviews in the book.


For more poetic talk, head to the Poetry Friday roundup at Michelle Kogan's blog.


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Feel better, Susan. Everyone in my family got COVID but not my husband, son, and me. Thanks for the poem on an urban center poem. The discussion of the poem was very interesting.

Carol, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you didn't get Covid!

You might like the Coursera course! It starts again in early September. The week of the New York School is one of my favorites during the semester, with poems by John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, James McLaughlin, et al.

So sorry to hear you got COVID! Glad it's a mild case. Thanks for all the recommendations!

You're welcome! Fortunately, only mild cases here at home.

Love the poem and the discussion, especially the process and circularity to it. Sending well wishes your way, thanks Susan!

Michelle, thanks so much for the well wishes! They are working. :) I am feeling much better and spent the morning on the patio reading a book of poetry. Yay.

Oh, Susan, I'm so sorry you got Covid! I'm glad it's a mild case and I hope it passes quickly. Two of my daughters had it in January and they had fairly mild cases, too, but were still laid up for over a week. Take care!

Thanks for this discussion of a wonderful poem I had never read. I was fascinated by the conclusion these two reached, as I had a totally different take on the poem. They focused so much on the line, "What was that something" as a clue to the poem being about memory. I read that line as being about interpretation — I thought the speaker witnessed something between two people and was trying to interpret, was wrestling with, what he had witnessed but had done nothing about. Was it a subtle fight, a discussion of illness, a clue of something foreboding to come? Did he have a concern for one or both of them? "It could be something one could talk about" but "Not now that the moment has passed." Did the speaker wonder if he should have intervened that morning, in whatever was happening between those two people? He seems haunted by it.

I love the way poetry is often open to so many different takes. And now I want to take ALL the courses. :)

Karen, yes, such an open-ended poem leads to different ideas from different readers. I can completely see your case for the speaker's being haunted by what he had seen and yet not quite able to define it. I have absolutely seen this in public settings (all over), especially when children are involved. Is that discipline okay? Is it even discipline or something worse? Does someone need to intervene? Do I? Fascinating.

Wow! Thanks for all the great references. Hope you're back to good health soon!

You're so welcome, Patricia. I am much better! Yay.

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