Art project pipes in poetry for pedestrians

Sebastion listened to a reading by James Baldwin at the Sixth Ave. Poetry Jukebox. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY TEQUILA MINSKY | What looks like a yellow submarine periscope peeping out at the Ruth E. Wittenberg Triangle at Sixth Ave. and Eighth St. is, in fact, the New Poetry Jukebox, installed in late October.

The Jukebox plays poetry on demand, and a lover of verse need just press a button to hear a poem or reading from the likes of Edna St. Vincent  Millay, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain, Hart Crane, Grace Paley and Jane Jacobs, as well as 11 more American poets and literary figures.

It’s not the first installation of its kind. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ireland, Scotland, Bulgaria and Germany have all experienced their own site-specific versions of the Jukebox.

The person between the “poetry periscopes” is Ondřej Kobza, a Prague-based cafe owner and cultural activist with a passion for poems and literature in general and live events in nontraditional places. Working with him on the project is his colleague and cultural manager Michaela Hečková.

On the Poetry Jukebox Web site they write, “We believe that listening to the original voices of poets is one of the most beautiful and inspiring experiences a city can offer.”

Rick Hill meditated on the periscope that offers poetry.

Animating public spaces is also one of their goals through their Czech project Piána na ulici (Pianos on the Street), which has placed dozens of  pianos and chess boards in public arenas.

The featured poems and poets (and songwriters, novelists and activists and their readings) on the Sixth Ave. Poetry Jukebox reflect artists that have called the Village home, including Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Love is Not All”; Sara Teasdale, “Barter”; Denis Levertov, “The Pilots”; Grace Paley, “Mother”; James Baldwin, “Sonny Blues”; Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven”; Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”; Jack Kerouac, “The Beat Generation”; Gary Snyder, “Turtle Island”; Diane di Prima, “Ave”; Anne Waldman, “Pressure”; Amiri Baraka, “Our Nation Is Like Ourselves”; Gregory Corso, “Mariagge”; Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Evil”; Wystan Hugh Auden, “Tell Me the Truth About Love”; Mark Twain, “The Voice of Mark Twain”; Hart Crane, “The Brooklyn Bridge”; Jane Jacobs, “Neighborhoods in Action”;  and Frank O’Hara, “Lana Turner has collapsed.”

The Jukebox’s poets and writers all have a connection to the Village.

The project is supported by Czech Tourism in the United States in partnership with the city’s Department of Transportation and the Village Alliance Business Improvement District.

Another Poetry Jukebox with 20 contemporary New York City-based poets is located in the East Village, at Six E. First St. Its selection was compiled with the help of the next-door HOWL! Happening gallery.