Much-loved works of poetry returning to the TTC starting today

Remember those unique slices of poetry that were a part of TTC subway car experience for so long? It was quirky, sure, but it was also a wonderful way to expose people to poetry. Well, after 12 years, the TTC is running it back spearheaded by the team behind the new Poems in Passage series launching today.

Poems in Passage will include installations across 75% of the TTC’s bus and train fleet, and will feature original works by diverse emerging and established poets, including Poet-in-Residence Britta Badour and renowned Canadian advocate and author Najwa Zebian. Unlike the previous program, Poems in Passage will incorporate poetry beyond subway cars into TTC stations and other public spaces around the city.

“Public art programs like this one help remind people of how vital art is to the shaping and nurturing of society and in helping bring people together,” says contributing poet Ikenna Onyegbula (pictured above).

The initiative marks a revitalization of the public art project Poetry on the Way, which was a part of the TTC until 2012 when it mysteriously stopped after 14 years. It was the fond memories of this program that inspired Latif Murji and Addesse Haile to go on a mission to revive it.

“We believe that poetry can be a mirror, reflecting the diverse tapestry of our city,” says Murji. “With Poems in Passage, we aim to turn public spaces into platforms of cultural exchange, where every verse becomes a catalyst for deeper connections.”

Murji is a practicing physician, University of Toronto lecturer, and founder of a healthcare non-profit while Haile is a consultant at McKinsey & Company, formerly with the United Nations Development Program. And they both bring with them a passion for the arts and literature. The aim was to reignite the poetic inspiration they experienced while commuting from their Scarborough homes. Reaching out to the TTC was an obvious first step.

An example of the Poems in Passage works to be displayed on the TTC

“The idea of Poems in Passage was born out of nostalgia and a deep-seated belief in the power of words,” says Haile. “We wanted to resurrect a cherished memory from our youth, turning it into a conduit for creativity and representation for our city.”

While drawing inspiration from “Poetry on the Way,” Haile and Murji recognized an opportunity to update the original model and amplify more diverse Canadian voices. The selection process for Poems in Passage prioritizes voices from traditionally underrepresented and equity-seeking groups. The inaugural series of poems includes works by both emerging and established writers, with a future goal of showcasing translated poetry in other languages and dialects.

The program launching today includes works by the following:

●  Growing Old(er) by Lillian Allen

●  Love Speak by d’bi.young anitafrika

●  ALT-Spring by Britta B.

●  Song of Sheba by Adebe DeRango-Adem

●  Seed Cycle by Martin Gomes

●  I text my love at Old Mill Station by Andrea Josic

●  afkaaga by Furqan Mohamed

●  I Am Both by Latif Murji, who also co-founded the program

●  Reflection by Ikenna Onyegbula

●  Footnotes for the Toronto Sky by Pujita Verma

●  To all of the Lights by Najwa Zebian

Fragment of a ghazal (ode), from 13th-century poet and scholar Rumi’s Divan of Shams of Tabriz. The poem, presented with Poems in Passage’s Institutional Partner, the Aga Khan Museum, will be displayed in the original Farsi text alongside an English translation by Dr. Michael Chagnon, Curator of the Museum’s spring/summer 2023 exhibition, Rumi.

The program is also partnering with Toronto Poetry Slam and aims to incorporate more emerging voices.

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