Experiments in Subway Poetry

I think a lot about how our use of digital technology, social media, and mobile devices shapes how we feel, think, and behave; shapes our muscles and our memories. There is no doubt about the host of benefits afforded us by all of these technologies, but their costs are both obvious and hidden.

We know that sometimes we feel addicted to them. We know we devote an immense amount of time and attention to them. Although they should be working for us, we often feel that we are working for them. We may even feel more tired and stressed and discouraged after being on screens. Muscles tense, furrowed brows. No one feels free on screens.The cult of efficiency tells us that we can and must get more done.

We are learning more about the consciously addictive designs of these technologies, mobile devices in particular. They are meant to hook us in. We now have no doubt that our views and clicks, our “data”, are the basis of the attention and surveillance economy, a multi-multi-billion dollar behemoth of an industry. As a psychologist and neuroscience researcher, I think about states of mind and brain when we use these devices, mobile phones in particular.

So, in the great tradition of obsessive scientists throughout history, I have been conducting an experiment on myself. Instead of using my mobile device on my daily

poetry book
My poetry notebook

subway commute, I now take a little notebook, about the size and shape of a small mobile device, and write poetry.

Some of the poetry is about my personal experience of technology, but most is not. The goal of the experiment is to track my subjective experience and assess how my state of mind changes when I think in poetry, express ideas in verse, write with a pen instead of click, swipe, click, swipe. No goals. Free-flowing thoughts. Efficiency the last thing on my mind.

Here are the poems I’ve written so far. I’m still collecting data. I’ll report back later in the summer and post more poems as I go.

If anyone wishes to join me in this experiment, please do so! Post your poems in the comments and I’ll post them on the blog (attributing them to you, the author, of course).

The Subway Poems

by Tracy-Dennis-Tiwary

Show Instead of tell

I wake

I raise my hand

I reach

I press

I swipe

I talk to you and forget

What you said

Only half remember what I said

I wonder, in the flood, what is really worth saving


What happens when we suddenly start listening,

When we pay


Liquid sound

Small conversations: “I’m here”; “I know what you want”


My husband holds the coffee cup

Shifting in its saucer

Zooming in on a screen

Except nothing like that

The opposite of a two-dimensional half-life


On the screen, our bodies shrink,

Contained in our headbox

Eyes and ears

Holding our breath

A laser pointer, robot madmen

Eyes created to gather information

Autistic ticket-taker

Punch! Punch! Check off, check off!


We have made ourselves into the image of small people

Stuck in the trees, no forest views though they cry, “disrupt!” “innovate!”

Victims who have become victors

Powerful like sad, awkward puppeteers



Are you my kind?

Two of a kind, a kind of wonder

Kind of this and kind of that

Kinship is a slippery slope

An avalanche of decency

One step forward and three…

A tango, a pas de deux

Eliminate the excess

Authentic core

“i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)”

Anywhere I go

I am in a land of others, of those who are not



Kinship being a slick and clever bird

Oil-slick and floundering


As little friction as possible

Same in skin, same in heart, same in bones


Immense sameness

A tribe of potentiality

The tip of the spear


The Tip of the Spear

The world seems full of tips of spears

Doing the bidding of the savages

I imagine a spear with a stone arrowhead

Bound with twine or

(am I making it up that people did this?…)

Animal guts or entrails

The tip of the spear is bound tightly as a

Clenched fist and

As a dream from which

You can’t awake

As tightly as hope

When you have nothing left


Slow Image

Building blocks totter

Sculpture of Chinese letters

Hold the pen tightly


Woman on Subway



Black woman

Puerto Rico”


Random Search

We are all subjects in the kingdom of randomness

Among our uncertain narratives

Hard pressed to find a story that we can live by,

That we can inhabit

How could the vast indifference,

The imperfect glazed bowl

Of our universe

Not make sense?


Can’t you see the spark in every

Rose and thistle

In every question and it’s too certain answer?

So long ago, I can’t remember

The inferno is hard to explain to a child

It assumes knowledge that is like a quagmire

Every step deeper in

But more lost

Sucking, slurping, sticky marsh goo


They should come to know that they will be judged

And, if not found wanting,

That they will dance away from the platform edges, and eventually embark

Towards a destination


If My Life Were Staged by a Puppeteer

(After watching Basil Twist’s SYMPhonie FANTAStique at HERE, NYC, Spring, 2018)

Puppeteers are underrated

We deride them as marionette-obsessed,

As hopeful that the world won’t see the strings

But I have seen puppeteers who perform

In flight

Wet suits slick

With dreaming fishes

And sparkle scarves

Twisting round so they are

In perfect time

With the daydreams

Of a lovelorn



Absolute Zero

How quaint it is to convince someone

That they are valued

We all know that our value

Is measured

In bits and bytes

Binary kingdom

Quantified selves

Our very eyeballs and fingers,

What they see and click and swipe…


The delight of pirates and dragons


How can we doubt this?

And doubting, how can we then

Reach beyond ourselves to figure out

What matters?

Like playing an arcane card game with high stakes

The Babylonians discovered zero 400 years before Christ

But our distant, round companion

Doesn’t glow with a soft light

Is neither a satisfying ellipse

Nor a road to travel,

Neither a portal, nor a golden and flaming hoop,

Which we jump through and into and beyond


Zero is absolute

A closed door

A set point

An off switch

Zero is not infinitely possible

Zero is an unsheltering sky


The California Poems (New Poems Added 7/19/2018 After Having Visited California)


Boy in band

Your face

At first

Minute reflections


Then dust motes singeing tracks of light

You do not know that you are glowing

You think the light on your keyboard is merely ambient


But, my boy, light is not empty-transparent

I want you to know the wonder of frenetic photons

Prism magic

Lustrous and linking you to the seemingly tiny red giant

The white dwarf

The wheeling double black hole, bending space-time

Tiny pinprick across galaxies opening rifts

For cosmic rays to wriggle through

Strange backstreets

Charmed quarks


On stage now

No thought of the universal

Or of cosmic scales and endings

Just the moment


Darling boy, you do not know that you are glowing

You turn to the crowd and speak into the microphone


Not Shy

You showed me how to gallop down east 15th street

Making sure to stop two cracks back from the corner

Like we showed you when you were three years old


“Faster mama, like this”


Hair streaming behind you

A wily shadow

“Can I tell you something?” you asked, when I caught up

Then singing to yourself, skipped away

A jubilant stone on still water


Lately your body has become long and solid

It makes me think of sand packed firm along the shore

Yet still fragile

Softening with the tides


This summer you started to think about

The kind of person you are with other people

“I’m not shy“ you tell me

And I have to agree


But I see you, sweetheart, the many layers of you

A nautilus shell with inner swirls of glass and cloud

I think you know that you are seen and

Like to try on different suits, covered with concoctions of mirrors

I love to see them all


In Morro Bay

You carved your initials on a juicy, round cactus

Excited that you also wrote a T for me

Marking that we were together

Even though I sat, warm, in the car

Sheltered from the mist and wind swirling about the throat of the distracted volcano

where you played



In a storm, the world outside is temperate and ordered

A Bach etude

Soft moss under feet


Even the eye of the storm is never truly still

It both exceeds and falls short of our well-worn reference points

It is like a slumbering archetype,

A shadowy ideal


Our fear of storms requires no explanation

“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror“

Serene disdain




But awe is not selfless admiration

It is the last shred of dignity and the relief

That comes from knowing

You do not yet have to say yes to the truly still point above the fray