Poetry in Transit
The UA Poetry Center is heading up a public outreach art project in partnership with artists Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead, one that rotates poetry on reader boards located along the Tucson Streetcar route.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Relations - Communications
Aug. 26, 2014

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The "Poets Head" installation, a collection of welded letters in the shape of a head, is located at the Tucson Streetcar's Helen/Cherry stop. The sculpture is part of a collection of works featured along the streetcar route added honor of poetry.
The "Poets Head" installation, a collection of welded letters in the shape of a head, is located at the Tucson Streetcar's Helen/Cherry stop. The sculpture is part of a collection of works featured along the streetcar route added honor of poetry. (Photo credit: Cybele Knowles)


In honor of literacy and the value of taking time to enjoy small moments, displays of poetry have been placed at various Sun Link Streetcar locations.  Their addition means riding the streetcar is not merely about transit, but it's also an artistic and cultural experience.

Of the 23 stops along the streetcar route,10 contain LED "poetry board" panels displaying poetry curated by the UA Poetry Center.  Each panel displays an illuminated line of running text from the same poem, allowing riders to read the poem in total at one stop, or continue reading at another.

"The vision for the project is to change the rider's experience so that the streetcar is not just about transportation," said Tyler Meier, the UA Poetry Center's executive director. "Poetry is a living art form, and there is a lot of activity happening with poetry."

The idea for the project was developed during the tenure of Gail Browne, the center's former executive director, and was conceived by artists Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead. Both produced "Poet," the sculpture located at the East Helen Street and North Warren Avenue stop.

The work of Tucson Poet Laureate Rebecca Seiferle was the first to be featured, and the center is now showcasing "Song of Myself," written by American poet Walt Whitman.  

Meier said the center will continue to showcase local poets, as well as national and internationally known poets, with a mix of classical and new works. The center will present full poems and excerpts. Some of the forthcoming rotations include works by noted Tohono O'odham poet and Regents' Professor of Linguistics Ofelia Zepeda, who heads the UA Department of American Indian Studies, and Alberto Rios, UA alumnus and Arizona's first poet laureate.

"We wanted to present iconic poets of our time initially and ground the project in their work," Meier said.

The plan is to rotate the work of published poets on a weekly basis and, in the future, showcase the works of UA student poets. Also, Meier and his team plan to spotlight writings that fit the theme of various holidays and days of recognition.

"It's exciting exposure for poetry and the Poetry Center," Meier said, adding that the center is working to archive all of the featured poems on its website.

"It's exciting to imagine that people would be underneath these boards, reading the poems aloud," he said. "The hope is that people will be struck by reading a poem or a line that they didn't plan to experience, and that it will be something meaningful and exciting."

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Tyler Meier 

UA Poetry Center

520-626-5880

tmeier@email.arizona.edu