Unexpected Poems


By Rachel Simons

Union Square, NYC, the meeting place of the first Poetry in Unexpected Places session. Photo by Ashley Rodriguez.

New York City has long been a famous artistic haven with its overwhelming array of galleries and performance venues.

But what if you could make the city itself a stage? Not just communicate to people that are already interested in the arts, but also the random ones just walking around? This outreach is what the organization Poetry in Unexpected Places (PUP) attempts to achieve by offsetting spontaneous performances in various locations throughout the five boroughs.

Started in 2010 by the writers Samantha Thornhill, Jon Sands, Adam Faulkner, Elana Bell, and Syreeta McFadden, PUP was originally conceptualized as a way to see how crowds of unsuspecting New Yorkers in “unsanctioned places” would react to performance poetry.

Thornhill lists some initial queries PUP sought to test: “Could our poetry move non-poetry crowds? How would our painstakingly rendered verses measure up? Would these stories we hold dear matter to and between strangers?”

For PUP’s first meeting, Thornhill, Sands, and Faulkner invited fellow poets from their community to meet in Union Square for a session of subway recitals.

“Syreeta agreed to come along and document with her photos, and seven of us came out that drizzly day to take part of our inaugural PUP,” Thornhill recalls.

Since then, PUP has expanded to curating shows not just throughout the city, but to other places in NY state, as well as like Boston, Montreal, and Pittsfield, PA. Though they now try to scope out a venue and choose who reads what before a pop-up performance, PUP still maintains a very clear vision of the organization’s mission.

“We seek to enhance and transform the way public space considers poetry, and the way poetry considers public space,” comments Sands. “PUP, in some ways, is an inevitable backlash against the unfounded belief that the pursuit of craft only happens in specific locations,” like “academic institutions or poetry slams.”

Sands continues that PUP members do not want to act as an artificial force, but rather, an “additional lens through which to view a world you inhabit each day, be it on a subway, in a laundromat, or at a public park.”

PUP has been on hiatus the last few months due to the harsh winter cold, but a performance in April for National Poetry Month is currently in the works. Besides that, PUP seeks to continue a poetry showcase entitled Poetry in Unexpected People where individuals are interviewed around a theme and poets are picked to write a work based off of the filmed conversation.

“We’re [also] looking to invest energy in working with local arts groups and organizations to create community specific pop-ups,” explains McFadden.

PUP, she continues, intends to eventually collaborate with visual artists, building a vast network “to create poetry based installations” and expand their “presence in the digital realm through social media and video.”
Expect to hear or see some unexpected creativity in the future.