Fundraiser Will Help Pay Costs to Replace Ads With Poems on the MBTA

MassPoetry wants to bring poetic justice to the daily commute.

Image via MassPoetry

Image via MassPoetry

Two months ago members of MassPoetry used their own money to launch a campaign that replaced advertisements on the MBTA’s buses and trains with the works of local writers. The project was such a success, leading to people taking photos of themselves in front of the prose and sharing it on social media, that it inspired the nonprofit group to try and keep it going all year long.

On Thursday, MassPoetry launched an IndigoGoGo campaign for the cause, and already they’ve raised more than $2,500. But they’re not stopping there. “The whole idea originally was to just get poetry in more public spaces and bring it to people,” said January O’Neil, executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. “You never know how poetry is going to reach another person, or how it will impact them.”

The idea for the online fundraiser was born out of a project launched by MassPoetry during National Poetry Month in April, called “PoeTry on the MBTA.” For that project, members of the group selected three poems done by local writers with ties to Massachusetts and put them inside of various Green Line vehicles. Then, they encouraged riders to snap “selfies” in front of the poems, and share them on social media.

The aim of the project was to improve the commutes of the millions of citizens who ride the T every day, while at the same time eliminating the awkward moments people find themselves in when being forced to stare blankly at a train’s walls. “We get stuck in our own little worlds,” said O’Neil.

Because the project “was a hit,” O’Neil said MassPoetry decided they wanted to raise additional funds to support the program through the summer, and, hopefully, for the long haul. “It’s been great,” O’Neil said, just two days into the fundraiser online. “Ideally we can keep it going, that’s what we would like to do.”

O’Neil said with the first three poems featured during National Poetry Month coming down, the organization is in the middle of approving the next round of prose that’s scheduled to take over advertising spaces on the Red Line beginning in June. Jose Olivarez, Mckeel McBride, and Christopher Millis wrote the new poems, which were hand-picked internally by the MassPoetry staff.

Come July, O’Neil wants to make sure there’s a chance for a new set of poets to have their work noticed, too. “The fundraiser is for funding beyond June, so we are hoping to raise money to keep poetry on the T ideally for the rest of the year,” she said.

The group hopes that if they can generate enough interest in the project moving forward, by encouraging riders to use social media to share the poems, they won’t have to rely on poetry fans to help pay for the advertising space in the future. “Putting these on the T does cost a lot of money,” said O’Neil. “So maybe we will find a corporate sponsor.”

The “PoeTry on the MBTA” project falls in line with recent discussions, hosted by transit officials, about the benefits of bringing more public art to people in Boston. O’Neil said people don’t often have the time, or know where to seek out artistic mediums, so being the ones to bring it to them instead is a positive way to enrich people’s lives. “We are hoping that we can build some momentum, and take this and say, ‘look, there is a call for people to see poetry,’ and help people who might not usually read poetry find it,” she said.