After reviewing more than 120 entries, State Poet Laureate Tina Cane has selected a Pawtucket writer’s poem to be displayed on the digital boards inside Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) buses. In October, Cane and RIPTA put out a call for public poetry submissions as part of the “Poetry in Motion, RI” project which promotes literacy and the arts by posting poems on interior bus displays. Cane said that she chose Norma Jenckes’ poem, “Ghazal Howl in Pawtucket,” from more than 120 poems sent in from 45 Rhode Island residents.
Cane said that the poem is in traditional ghazal form — which requires a series of couplets with a repeating refrain and a rhyming word to signal the refrain – and is also a homage to the poem “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. “Norma Jenckes’ poem leapt out at me from the many wonderful poems we received.” Cane said. “That it was a ghazal (a traditional Middle Eastern form–pronounced guzzle) which directly references the great “Howl” by Allen Ginsburg, while beautifully capturing a bygone era in Rhode Island, truly distinguished it from the rest.”
Working with RIPTA, Cane launched “Poetry in Motion, RI” a little over a year ago. Based on a program that started in 1992 as a collaboration between New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Poetry Society of America, Poetry in Motion introduces poetry to suburban and urban landscapes by posting poems, or parts of poems, on buses and subways cars. Since its start in New York, the program has been adopted by numerous transit systems across the country.
In Rhode Island, Cane works with artists who create original graphic designs for the poems which are posted amidst a rotation of changing advertisements on the digital display boards on RIPTA buses. The intent is to give the public a moment of reflection or reprieve in an information-laden landscape, and Cane said that positive public response to the project prompted her to seek public submissions. “I have thought about doing this for some time, and was inspired by a rider’s query to finally take action,” Cane said. “This rider’s reaching out, and her desire to take part, is precisely the kind of engagement with art that I had hoped Poetry in Motion, RI would encourage.” The poems on the RIPTA buses change about once a month, and Jenckes’ poem will be displayed during the month of January 2019.
A direct descendant of Joseph Jenckes, Pawtucket’s founder, Norma Coleman Jenckes was born and raised in Pawtucket. A poet and playwright, Jenckes spent 26 years teaching in Ohio, before returning to Rhode Island. She has published works in journals such as Minnesota Review and Paris Review, and has a volume of poems entitled DEMENTIA: This Undiscovered Country. (Blackstone River Press). Now retired, Jenckes is exploring her own creativity and the bardic tradition of her mother’s Irish heritage on her blog “Back In The Bucket”: http://pawtucketri.blogspot.com/.
GHAZAL HOWL IN PAWTUCKET– Circa 1959
by Norma Jenckes
I trembled as I sneaked a smoke with O’Dowl, I am with you in Pawtucket.
A leather-jacketed boy with a scowl, I am with you in Pawtucket.
On the Bridge I feared some gossip, who knew my mother, was sitting
spying from the bus, cheek and jowl, I am with you in Pawtucket.
Me standing there: cigarette dangling, blue uniform skirt rolled
thigh high, turtleneck my only cowl, I am with you in in Pawtucket.
Hiding my Catholic school badge, mouth smeared with white lipstick.
Eyes outlined in kohl like a baby owl, I am with you in Pawtucket.
Where is little Lucille, who would skate with me those cold starry nights?
At the Blue Pond we were on the prowl, I am with you in Pawtucket.
Where is Roland– red sweater, white ’51 Ford with fairy fringe?
All dazzling smiles, jokes, no scowl. I am with you in Pawtucket.
That boy I met in the Back lots showed me where he dug.
Seeking flints, shard of Indian bowl. I am with you in Pawtucket
Oh, we married for a while; our son called last night. So where am I?
I read Bronte; heard Heathcliff’s yowl, I am with you in Pawtucket.
First and Last Chance walk past Peerless, Shartenberg’s,Windsor.
The LeRoy for a late show–one last howl, I am with you in Pawtucket.
Stroll up Broad to Warner’s Ballroom, sounds of “Harlem Nocturne”.
Blues sax paints the world, mirror ball rolls, I am with you in Pawtucket.
Speckled light on gingham, your cheek pressed to mine. “This is our song.
Norma, always be our song,” you growl. I am with you in Pawtucket.