All aboard — to the magic realm of Poetry

Mention train and many in the Boston area think of a hassle-free way to get to work. But put the word “poetry” in front of it and suddenly “train” sounds as magical as Polar Express. A true-to-life “Poetry Train” – well, poetry car – will be leaving three times on May 14 to take people from North Station in Boston to Salem and the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.

A poet with a sign will meet all literary pilgrims at North Station to lead them to the appropriate train car and begin the festival fun immediately.

The Poetry Train, a special program by  the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR),  is just the beginning. When the train arrives in Salem, it will be met by the Poetry Trolley, again with a poet on board to read as travelers make their way to the happy destination in downtown Salem where the festival takes place.

Two big loves in one

We asked three people who registered to take the Poetry Train about their expectations for the ride and for the festival. Leo Racicot, who is from Lowell and participated in the poetry festival in that city, says, “I love poets and poetry and coincidentally love trains and train travel – two of my big loves combined in one!”

Racicot, who is a lifelong lover and writer of poetry, explains that he plans to bring others with him. “So far, I’m a one-man band, but I know a lot of fellow poets here in Lowell and am contacting them to join in.”

For Jesse Peter de la Rosa this will be his first Massachusetts Poetry Festival. As a newcomer to Boston, he says, “I find it challenging to live in a part of the country where it is more common to avoid eye contact than to interact.” He sees the train ride with poets and poetry lovers as a way of establishing community. “I don’t know what to expect, but it sure seems like a great alternative to being on a computer or reading a magazine. Why should we be alone when we travel together?”

Onward to the magic realm of Poetry with a roving band of wordsmiths

And especially when that destination – for the day at least – is to the magic realm of Poetry. Susie Davidson, a journalist who writes for Jewish Daily Forward (NYC), the Jewish Advocate, the Jewish Journal and the weekly Tabs, thinks the train is a fun way to spread the word to the masses. Davidson sees the Poetry Train as a “roving band of wordsmiths who can both entertain and enlighten riders. This country simply does not appreciate poetry the way that others around the world revere poets and the creatively spoken and written word.”

Though there will be poets reading in the poetry car, she doesn’t see the readings as slam poetry, which she finds “too competitive” and lacking in quality since presentation is stressed over content. “The poetry train is very far from a slam. It seems to be an egalitarian, democratic and non-competitive effort.” She hopes the festival and the train will lead to “a new awareness and enjoyment of this ancient yet underappreciated art form.”

Back to the future and the bards of yore

But Racicot is also looking forward to the variety of readings on the train. The appeal for him goes back to the appeal of traditional oral poetry. “The first poets were oral storytellers. It is a tradition as ancient as the world itself.” The festival for him provides a way to hear all kinds of poetry “from classical to free verse to counterculture to spoken word. So much variety!” he says.

Racicot is certain he would find a way to attend the festival if there were no Poetry Trains. But Davidson doesn’t think she could make it. “The distance is far and because I’m on constant deadlines and involved in many writing related and social justice projects, I have very little free time.” De la Rosa, a mass transit enthusiast who gave up his car a year ago, gets around most places by train or bicycle. “I’m glad I get to ride with other poets,” he says.

All three expectant train riders look forward to arriving at the festival. De la Rosa says, “One highlight for me is definitely the songwriting workshop with one of my favorites, Kim Richey.” Racicot wishes he had time to hear all the readers, and Davidson looks forward to the festival as a way to “get back to my poetry.” She sees the day as a “refreshing venture.”

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  1. […] those who attend the Massachusetts Poetry Festival on May 12, 13,  and 14. And there’ll be trains and trolleys to get you from one place to another.  Check below to find a list of hotels and inns as well as […]