Eavesdropping is a fantastic way to learn something while riding the train. But what’s a curious mind supposed to do when no one is saying a word? “There’s a quiet Metro culture in D.C.,” says Lucy Burnett, co-founder of Knowledge Commons D.C., a new project designed to promote free lessons “taught anywhere, by anyone, for everyone.”
One of the spaces KCDC is hoping to turn into a classroom is the city’s public transportation system. Burnett has developed a series of poetry readings and workshops called “Readers and Riders.” It debuted over four Sundays in June, and a second series will start this Sunday with Yael Flusberg at 4 p.m. at L’Enfant Plaza (and headed on the Green Line toward Greenbelt).
Flusberg’s work deals with gentrification, which she’ll be discussing while traveling through her Columbia Heights neighborhood on the way to Fort Totten, where participants will disembark for a writing exercise on the platform. The unusual venue appeals to the 42-year-old Flusberg, who has never owned a car. “I can combine my love of the written word with my love of public transportation,” she says.
Since the prospects of loud announcements and a bumpy journey don’t bother her, there isn’t much else to worry about, explains Burnett. “We checked the laws. We’re not selling anything, and we’re not amplified,” she says.
Instead of getting arrested, they plan to arrest the attention of the unintended audience and those who are there intentionally. (If you want to be part of that group, you can register here.) At the earlier readings, leaders were surprised by how quickly the combined crowd took to the event, even on crowded trains where listeners were jammed together.
“I wondered if they were thinking, ‘Oh, no, I picked the poet train,’” says Suzanne Zweizig, whose fears were allayed as soon as she started reading and everyone around her laughed and nodded. It wasn’t just the random rider experience that she managed to shift, but also her own perception of what a trip could become. “I started seeing the Metro as a place of more possibility,” she says.
Burnett sees potential for using the forum for future projects, including reading groups for people with long commutes. And Buck Downs, who in June became the first poet to lead a group, was so inspired by the reaction that he organized Platmob, a group dedicated to bringing brief, impromptu poetry readings to Metro plat forms. (Follow @PlatMobDC to find out when the next one will pop up.)
Sounds more entertaining than trying to listen in on nonexistent conversations — and much more enlightening.