Waxing Poetic, Metro-Style

Imagine combining your public transit experience with poetry. Try describing the feeling while underground or when emerging from a tunnel to face graffiti outside your window. Picture adding word and rhyme to the rhythm of shuffling feet, to the sight of bodies in motion, rocking along with the train. That’s exactly the goal of poet Joseph Ross and the folks at Knowledge Commons DC, whose Slam the Rails series looks to inject “spoken word in a context often defined by silence.” Ross will be in our neck of the woods on March 18th, reading poems on the red line (toward Glenmont). Riders are invited to hop the last car and hear him read, to take in his poetry along with the miles-long view of spray-painted murals and names.

Like us, Ross has been fascinated by the “ever changing graffiti landscape of the metro.” His poetry explores the work of local graffiti legend Cool Disco Dan and the significance of graffiti as a public name-writing practice. Here, he explains more about his curiosity with metro graffiti …

I am really interested in two areas of graffiti art. First, for me, is the “naming” element. I think it’s so interesting to explore what it means for someone to come out in the middle of the night and paint their name is 5 foot letters. I wonder how “unseen” that person might feel? I wonder about what kind of self-proclamation it is. It seems to be a way of saying “I’m here” to a world that does not see this person. It seems like a baptism, of a sort. Second, I am interested in the “memorializing” element of graffiti art. Often you see the name of someone from a neighborhood who has been killed– showing up in a memorial of some kind. Some are of famous people but some are from folks whose names the rest of us would never know. There is also something very transient about graffiti art– like a Buddhist sand painting where it’s created, it’s beautiful, but everyone knows it will blow away. That impermanence fascinates me too.
I’ve often thought of the Red Line from Union Station to Silver Spring as a kind of constantly changing graffiti art museum. You never know what you’ll see. A name can be there one day and gone the next.

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