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Poetry gives a lift to commuters

Portland is one of 10 cities where words go mobile on public transportation

Attention straphangers and other riders of public transportation.

National Poetry Month gets off to a rolling start this month with Poetry in Motion, a project through which poetry is placed on placards in buses and trains and in subways.

Inspired by a public poetry program in London's Underground, the Poetry Society of America fired up the National Poetry in Motion program in 1993. Today 10 U.S. cities participate.

In Portland, Literary Arts oversees Poetry in Motion. This year's new poems will start to appear on TriMet buses and MAX trains early next month, TriMet's Rhonda Danielson says.

So turn off those cell phones, passengers, and consider the rose for a moment.

Five of the poets selected by Literary Arts were culled from the winner/nominee list for the 2001 Oregon Book Awards. They are Karen Braucher, Tom Bremer, Dorianne Laux, Floyd Skloot and Ralph Salisbury. Braucher and Bremer live in the Portland area.

Another five poets whose work will get a TriMet showing live outside Oregon and were selected by Poetry Society of America staff from a Poetry in Motion anthology. The list includes poets such as Lucille Clifton, Kenneth Koch and Linda Gregg.

'We've been doing this program 10 years now, and Portland caught on really fast,' says Brett Lauer, program director for New York-based National Poetry in Motion. He says that at its peak, the program can reach 10 million people a day Ñ unheard-of exposure in the often cloistered world of poetry.

This year the number of bus and MAX placards in Portland has doubled to 3,750. The local Poetry in Motion chapter received a $26,000 grant from the William M. Brod Fund, which went directly to producing the cards.

Portland poets Braucher and Bremer, along with Skloot, will read at this year's Poetry in Motion kickoff event. Each will have poetry on Portland buses and MAX trains soon.

Bremer teaches English at Centennial High School in Gresham. His bus-bound poem, 'A Dream of Portland,' is from his book 'Just Once.' Braucher is the publisher and founding editor of the Portlandia Group, a small poetry press. Her contribution, 'Wanting Less,' is about creating space for a creative life.

'I'm really tickled to be in this and to reach such a wide audience,' Braucher says. 'And they seem to pick poems that can take you someplace else. Hopefully, you feel different about life after reading them.'

Skloot grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and rode the subway often.

'I remember just sitting there being an open mind, an open book, rattling around on the subway and trolleys, waiting for something to read,' Skloot says. 'I've often thought it would have been a nice, harmless way for a young boy to be exposed to poetry, riding the subway and reading something other than an antiperspirant ad.'

Skloot lives far from Brooklyn now, on 20 acres outside of Amity. He's just learned that his new book of essays, 'In the Shadow of Memory,' was selected by Barnes & Noble for its Discover Great New Writers program. His poem destined for public transit is called 'Sourwood Nocturne.'

Many poets agree that interest in verse increases during trying times.

'Since 9-11 and the war, there has been a huge shift in many people toward deeper issues,' Braucher says. 'People are asking, 'What is the meaning of my life? What am I doing here?' Poetry is close to philosophy that way.'

Contact Michaela Bancud at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..