This past Saturday, PUP tried to get the day warmed up for the US soccer team. I like to think we did our part (as did the Q Train… and Ghana). Jared Singer, Adam Bowser, Elana Bell, Ken Arkind, Marcy Alexis, Rico Steal, Syreeta McFadden and I met (as always) at the Gandhi statue in Union Square. We escaped the summer heat to bring our ruckus to the Brooklyn bound Q train.
I’ve got to say, something in spontaneous art has lit a fire for me. I’ve loved each location we’ve been able to “pop up.” Adam Falkner, Samantha Thornhill, and I were asked to pop at the “Hollywood Does Poetry” benefit for Bowery Arts & Science (which meant Adam & I got to shake Tony Soprano’s (James Gandolfini) hand, as he said, “I yain’t nevah seen nuttin’ like dat.” (I wanted to say “f’gedaboutit.”) PUP popped at an Emily Dickinson tribute reading at the Botanical Gardens. Adam Falkner, Eboni Hogan, and I popped up at a party where this amazing advocate of the arts who works for the United Nations unveiled an “art door” of hundreds of compiled poetry lines. Samantha, Elana, and Akua rocked Whole Foods. The spontaneity and surprise, as well as poetry being playful, serious, spontaneous, anything-but-serious, necessary, community-based, loving, and reaching has been the breeze in this entire sail… That said…
Subway readings are my favorite. They’re spontaneous, although less for us than the rest of the train, which makes it even better. Eight of us board, each from different doors. We sit in different seats. Some stand at the handrails, some have sunglasses, some beards down to their nipples, tall, short, guys, ladies, many different shades of amazing. When we’re all separate, our faces don’t scream, “We’re together.” For me, that’s where part of the magic lies.
The doors closed on the second train we boarded Saturday. Marcy hopped up first from the middle of a group of 10 Indian ladies in traditional garb (If she’s afraid of anything, I don’t know what it is). We were trading off the lead off spot. It’s hard to go first because, as far as the whole train knows, you’re not part of any group. You’re just a person speaking to the Q train… But you don’t seem crazy “cause this sounds kinda nice.” You probably are trying to make a buck “but the doors just opened and closed, so if this is a business, it’s not a good one.”
Slowly in that first poem or two, people learn that no one will ask them for dollars. Nothing gives a crowded train more permission to connect than the feeling that they won’t have to pay for it. Marcy finishes her poem to a smattering of applause, as everyone but the poets thinks, “That was a good way to spend 3 minutes (a la Roger BA), and now it’s over, right?” I love this moment. From the other end of the train, Adam Bowser starts his Michael Jackson poem, and by the time he gets to, “Tell them to remember his James Brown!” this train is whooping and hollering. Adam finishes and one of the Indian ladies hops up and starts doing some dance, and all the other ladies and their children are now clapping and cheering and NONE of the train knows who’s with who or what is happening. We’re clapping and chanting as much as they are.
By the time Jared and Ken’s beards emerge from the stream of passengers attached to poems of punk rock, love, and hearts that are volume knobs, you can feel the train thinking, “This is AMAZING.” Am I the only person not a poet?” And might that be how it should be? Isn’t life more fun when you halfway suspect the person next to you has the capacity to change your day, even if they don’t? It’s changed the way I ride the train. It’s changed the way I walk through the city. As if art lurks around every bodega. It’s gonna hop out of a trashcan. I’m in on it, and I still walk around feeling like something amazing could happen at any moment of the day. I would say that’s part of what Samantha, Adam, and I were thinking when we started PUP. We wanted to leave groups of people feeling like art can happen anywhere… like it might be happening right now. Like, a reverse panopticon. I’ll say it has been 38 times more fun and exhilarating to put it into practice than it was to talk about it (and talking about it was FUN).
That’s how Saturday felt. Elana had the music bug and so the Q train was singing! With her! When anyone could be involved, it means you can be involved. New York City…World… Please keep surprising me. It feels way better than all this expecting. Jon Sands and the PUPers, signing off.
- Jon Sands