What ancient Chinese poem did I see on the NYC subway?
September 15, 2004 9:48 AM   Subscribe

"Poetry in Motion" is a program in which the MTA (Manhattan Transit Association) posts short poems in subway trains. A few years ago, they posted an ancient Chinese poem (translated, I think, by a modern American poet). The poem was about an office worker, loaded down with paperwork, looking out the window at distant mountains. I may have some of the details wrong, but the poem had a powerful effect on me. Any ideas of what poem it could be?
posted by grumblebee to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might contact the Poetry Society of America and ask them. The link takes you to the Poetry In Motion website.
posted by drobot at 10:02 AM on September 15, 2004

I'm guessing it's Han Shan translated by Gary Snyder or Robert Bly.
posted by goethean at 10:33 AM on September 15, 2004

From drobot's link I found this list of some of the poems that have appeared in New York, with links to the poems themselves. I don't see one that matches your description, but maybe these will jog your memory?
posted by Songdog at 10:33 AM on September 15, 2004

Barnes & Noble are the suppliers of poems to the MTA, so maybe you could contact them directly and ask?
posted by riffola at 10:34 AM on September 15, 2004

If you find out, do post here...it sounds like a lovely poem.
posted by GaelFC at 10:39 AM on September 15, 2004

I will post it here if I find it, GaelFC. It's only a few lines long, as I remember.

I had high hopes for the list Songdog found, because it claims to be all of the New Your "Poetry in Motion" poems, but it's not there. Maybe the translator refused to give rights for them to put it on the web.
posted by grumblebee at 10:47 AM on September 15, 2004

other cities have the same program--maybe you saw it while you were travelling?

at any rate, norton did an anthology of poetry in motion poems. maybe it's there?
posted by crush-onastick at 11:04 AM on September 15, 2004

Nope. It was definitely in NYC. My wife remembers it too -- but not any more details about it. There's also a book of the Poetry in Motion series (maybe the one you linked to, crush), but it's not in that book either.

I've emailed the Poetry in Motion people about it. If the reply, I'll post here. 100 points to anyone who can figure it out before I hear from them.
posted by grumblebee at 11:13 AM on September 15, 2004

grumblebee, they don't actual claim that list to be complete, they say it's "a sampling." I found it via the Poetry Society of America Atlas link on the the Poetry in Motion main page that drobot posted.
posted by Songdog at 11:28 AM on September 15, 2004

I've got the Poetry in Motion book. I'll scrounge through it when I get home and see what I can see.
posted by sciurus at 11:42 AM on September 15, 2004

Hooray! Brett, the kind soul who runs Poetry in Motion was able to find the poem for me. We emailed each other about it for awhile, and he couldn't find it at first. He asked me when I thought I saw it, and I told him probably two or three years ago. This created a problem, because as it turns out, they posted it FIVE years ago.

Anyway, for your enjoyment...


Too Much Heat, Too Much Work

It’s the fourteenth of August, and I’m too hot
To endure food, or bed. Steam and the fear of scorpions
Keep me awake. I’m told the heat won’t fade with Autumn.

Swarms of flies arrive. I’m roped into my clothes.
In another moment I’ll scream down the office
As the paper mountains rise higher on my desk.

O those real mountains to the south of here!
I gaze at the ravines kept cool by pines.
If I could walk on ice, with my feet bare!

Tu Fu (712-770)
Translated from the Chinese by Carolyn Kizer
posted by grumblebee at 11:03 AM on September 16, 2004 [2 favorites]

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