The Rapidian

Children's poetry travels local bus system

Grand Rapids' Poet Laureate, Lew Klatt collaborates with The Rapid, GRPL and afterschool programs for his second project, "Grand Poems in Rapid Transit" to bring children's haiku to riders.
Grand Poems in Rapid Transit

Grand Poems in Rapid Transit /Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

Underwriting support from:
Grand Poems in Rapid Transit

Grand Poems in Rapid Transit /Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

Lew Klatt, Grand Rapids' Poet Laureate

Lew Klatt, Grand Rapids' Poet Laureate /Courtesy of Calvin College

Grand Rapids' Poet Laureate, Lew Klatt debuts his new project, "Grand Poems in Rapid Transit," during National Poetry Month on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. Collaborating with The Rapid and several local afterschool programs, Klatt will be displaying haiku poetry inside all 150 Rapid busses for the next year.

“The job of poet laureate is to advocate for poetry to be written and read, so this is way to encourage enthusiasm for poems,” says Klatt, currently an associate professor of English at Calvin College. “I knew other cities have had famous poets, like New York City’s Poetry in Motion on their subways. They’ve had people like Billy Collins who’ve had their poems in the subways, and I thought, why not children? Why does it have to be famous poets?”

Lew notes that Grand Rapids’ current version of the subway is its busses. “I thought it would be an interesting thing to do and it would be this wonderful chance to work with kids and also give them practice writing poems”  

"The idea was to help local students, elementary and middle schoolers, get more familiar with the history of transportation in Michigan and  particularly Grand Rapids because our area is so rich in that history," says Klatt.

Klatt took photos from the Grand Rapids Historical Society which are archived at the Grand Rapids Public Library to local afterschool programs including the Creative Youth Center, the Cook Arts Center, Camp Blodgett Club at Alpine Elementary, the Potter’s House, and Living Stones Academy.
"Tim Gleisner at the library's archive and I came up with a number of photos that we thought would be interesting for the students to interact with. Got us to talk about what was it like 100 yrs ago, how did people get around?  And each student was given a photo and they had to describe what they saw. There’s some really cool pictures. There’s an old snowmobile that has a propeller on it that was on the frozen Reed’s Lake, there’s a picture of the trolley car on fire which harkens back to the 1920s or 1930s when they put the trolley cars out of service, and decided to burn them. It’s really kind of interesting because of course there’s a desire to go back to something like that. And from that we took some of the sentences they wrote and turned them into haiku," says Klatt.
Klatt selected six of the haiku poems representing the five programs with one program represented twice. Those six selected haiku will go up in The Rapid's busses next to the historical photo with the first name of the student who wrote the haiku and the afterschool program they're involved in.
"Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry which follows a 5 syllable, 7 syllable, 5 syllable pattern. When you put together a description and a haiku that’s actually called a hibun, so really, technically, what these students did was a hibun.  The important thing is the experience in training their powers of observation, learning some local history, and some experience writing poems," says Klatt.
Klatt notes that other collaborators include, "Thomas VenHuizen who designed the placards, Jennifer Kalczuk in charge of External Relations at The Rapid, Tim Gleisner at the Grand Rapids Public Library,  Calvin College’s Communication and Marketing Department is paying for the printing of the placards, which is no small thing, and The Rapid is donating ad space for these poems to be displayed, so it’s quite a community project."
The kick-off event for "Grand Poems in Rapid Transit" is on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at The Rapid's Central Station on 300 Ellsworth Ave SW at 4:30 p.m..






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