Street corner haiku
High concept and life-saving?
Or waste of money?
How many New Yorkers believe the city’s latest move to place clever haiku poems on busy street corners will actually improve public safety? Well, at least one…
“Adding curbside haiku is really just adding another level of safety to high-crash sites,” confidently states Janette Sadik-Khan, New York’s DOT (Department of Transportation) commissioner.
Adapting the popular form of Japanese poetry with a total of 17 syllables in three lines (5, 7 and 5), the city commissioned East Village artist John Morse to both design the artwork and write the haikus for the 216 warning signs now posted on busy NYC street corners.
“I can think of better ways to spend $25,000 of the state’s money–it’s a waste,” fumed city councilman Eric Ulrich.
Philistine! How can Ulrich not be impressed by such witty haikus as A sudden car door–Cyclist’s story rewritten–Fractured narrative?
It’s hard to imagine how many English major/bike messenger lives will be spared by this clever sign.
Meanwhile, in midtown: Too averse to risk–to choose the lottery yet–steps into traffic.
Obviously more effective than a sign saying Cross Carefully, huh?
Not according to lifetime New Yorker Daryl King. “What the hell does that even mean?” King wondered as he cheerfully jaywalked across Broadway. When I explained that the haiku described some people who are too timid to buy a lottery ticket yet bold enough to cross against the light, King shrugged “I do both”, then disappeared into the crowd. Can’t argue with that.
I couldn’t help but think that this type of haiku would be more effective in our subway system, where riders waiting on platforms would have more time to appreciate poems that they can relate to, such as:
I wait for the train
300 pound man blocks door
I wait for one more
Man right in my face
Scent of his garlicky lunch
Enters my nostrils
With six-figure salaries
As the fares go up
But until then, we’ll have to make do with the new “curbside haiku”, which I predict will remain in place until the first distracted pedestrian trying to decipher a confounding haiku is run down by an errant biker. Or as the D.O.T. might put it:
I read the haiku
Biker veers onto the sidewalk