May 7, 2013

New York taxi drivers read their poetry at PEN World Voices Festival


It’s not surprising that cab drivers would meet a wide variety of saucy characters over the course of their careers, and overhear or participate in countless conversations with strangers that would offer them enough material to fill a book. So it seems only natural that people would flock to hear them tell their stories—in poetic form in this instance, as three New York cabbies read poetry inspired by their line of work at this weekend’s PEN World Voices Festival.

Matt Flegenheimer writes for the New York Times that the idea for the reading came from Mark Nowak, director of the creative writing master’s program at Manhattanville College. Nowak has put together writing workshops for various other groups, including electricians, nurses, and auto workers, with the goal of “tak[ing] the creative writing workshop out into the community of workers.” By working with cabbies, and eventually having them read at PEN World Voices, he hoped to create an iconically New York event for the international festival.

The drivers who participated are all veterans with decades of experience driving cabs—Davidson Garrett, John McDonagh, and Seth Goldman. The poetry they read explored the everyday and mundane as well as the more memorable events to hit New York, such as Hurricane Sandy. One of the poems that Garrett read, “1040 Fifth Avenue,” recalls his frequent trips past Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s Upper East Side home, hoping to catch a glimpse of her flagging down a cab: “Sometimes I picture you as a diaphanous ghost, waving an arm for a taxi… Of course, your apparition is always adorned in a smart, Lilly Pulitzer day dress.” Goldman, meanwhile, read a poem offering advice to young taxi drivers, passing the torch to the next generation with some words of wisdom, and concluding with, “Wish to feel the heartbeat of the big, bad city? / You are doing the right job.”

The reading, incidentally, was named “Watching the Meter: Poetry from the Taxi Drivers Workshop” by PEN, in a cringeworthy, beautiful, and frankly inevitable taxi meter/poetic meter pun.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.