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Volume 4, Issue 4
April 2012

Poetry in Motion Gives Mid-Michigan CATA Riders Something to Contemplate

  • Anita Skeen, M.F.A.
  • Professor
  • Director, RCAH Center for Poetry
  • Residential College in the Arts and Humanities

There is a little more to think about during a bus ride around the mid-Michigan area, thanks to a collaborative effort between Michigan State University and the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA). Anita Skeen, professor and director of Michigan State University's Center for Poetry in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH), and assistant director Stephanie Glazier, are working with the Poetry Society of America to bring Poetry in Motion®, a nationwide initiative that features poetry in public transit systems, to East Lansing CATA bus routes.

Picture for Poetry in Motion Gives Mid-Michigan CATA Riders Something to Contemplate

Dr. Skeen is the author of five volumes of poetry and is currently working on another collection of poems. In addition to her duties at the Center for Poetry, she is also the RCAH arts coordinator.

In 1997 Dr. Skeen began serving as the director in a living and learning program for selected undergraduates in the College of Arts and Letters. This led to her continued commitment to building links between students, other MSU units, and the community.

The idea to bring Poetry in Motion® to mid-Michigan came from Glazier, who spent a summer in Portland, Oregon a few years back, and experienced riding on a public transportation system that made poetry visible and accessible. Begun in 1992, Poetry in Motion® is a public literary program that places poetry from beginning, emerging, and established poets in public transportation venues. It has been implemented in more than 20 major metropolitan areas across the United States and aims to create a national poetry readership.

I wish words to burn as bright
in their constellations —
story, poem, prayer, song —
as these heavenly trinkets of the dark,
to periodically flash
by as they explode, disperse
into cosmic matter, caught
in the rear view eye of only the most astute.

—excerpt of "Vocabulary Night"
by Anita Skeen from Never the Whole Story©

"I think it is a powerful, yet simple, way for people to experience poetry," says Skeen.

With Skeen's support, Glazier put into motion a plan that involved collaboration with MSU administrators, faculty, students and leaders from the City of East Lansing and the Capital Area Transportation Authority. It is the first Poetry in Motion® program in Michigan.

Nathan Triplett, East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem and member of CATA's board of directors, was one of the first to embrace Glazier's efforts. He served as a conduit between Glazier and CATA management in the discussions about running a pilot project during the MSU spring semester from January to May. "It is a way to bring citizens into contact with the arts on a daily basis," says Triplett. "East Lansing is a community that embraces artistic expression, and I'm delighted that Michigan State University faculty and students have worked so hard to provide a creative and inspiring atmosphere for the benefit of our area commuters."

Glazier and Lia Greenwell, a programming assistant, selected a diverse and varied cross section of poems and placed excerpts on placards.

"The selections were made with consideration of their potential visual imagery, and we were mindful of presenting a breadth of poetry for viewers," says Glazier. "We included work from poets living and deceased, who are from different backgrounds and cultural experiences. In particular, the poems in translation represent carefully nuanced work. There are scholars who devote significant amounts of time toward poem interpretation from one language to another."

They collaborated with Paula Storrer, assistant professor in advertising from MSU's College of Communication Arts and Sciences, for design students to provide artwork on many of the poetry placards. Olivia Asiala, a student designer, spent a great deal of time putting the project into a finished product.

A grant from the Michigan Humanities Council assisted with printing and administrative costs. The Poetry Society of America provides permission agreements to feature select poetry, typically the biggest cost involved with Poetry in Motion®.

The placards were placed on twelve CATA buses on six routes in February, and will remain until May. Plans are underway for a future scale-up for more poetry on more placards, placed on more CATA buses in mid-Michigan.

"Our goal is to incorporate poetry into your everyday landscape. It introduces an element of arts and culture that you might not seek out otherwise," says Glazier.

  • Written by Carla Hills, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photograph by Olivia Asiala, MSU Senior
  • Excerpt of "Vocabulary Night" by Anita Skeen from Never the Whole Story, copyright ©2011 by Anita Skeen. Reprinted with permission of Michigan State University Press, http://msupress.msu.edu