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Poetry helped Jerry Beck as a kid. Now he’s taking it on the road with the Poetry Mobile

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 7/18/2019 Maria Lovato
A child takes a break between reading poems to shoot hoops at the Poetry Mobile. © The Revolving Museum A child takes a break between reading poems to shoot hoops at the Poetry Mobile.

Just a year after Jerry Beck, the founder of Fitchburg’s Revolving Museum, set off to break the world record for the largest paper airplane, he is back with a new passion project – the Poetry Mobile.

The interactive poetry gallery will be in Downtown Crossing Aug. 19 and 20 at the corner of Summer Street and Washington Street. It will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature 250 poems, wall projections, and even basketball hoops to keep children interested. The gallery will also host community workshops and shows, Beck said.

The Poetry Mobile is a celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Revolving Museum’s first piece. In that project, he transformed 12 abandoned railroad cars in Boston into a public art space with the idea of bringing the community together.

The Revolving Museum is a non-profit organization that creates public art projects, exhibitions, and educational programs, according to its website.

“I kept thinking for years that probably the most underrated art form for the public space was the written word,” he said.

For the Poetry Mobile, Beck said he was heavily inspired by his childhood growing up in Florida.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know that I was dyslexic, and in school they didn’t have any of those tests, and I had a very hard time reading,” he said. “And I couldn’t really stand up in class and read from the books because the words move. They still do.”

Beck wasn’t diagnosed until high school and entered a special program at Florida State University focused on poetry. He said he fell in love with poems, because they allowed him to no longer be fearful of reading.

“It felt like that poetry was saving my life because I was reading very powerful poems from all over the world and writing poetry to increase my ability to read and write,” Beck said. “At that point, I became very entrenched in the world of poetry.”

Another influence was the carnivals and theme parks that his family frequented when he was young.

After moving to Boston, Beck worked as a guard at the Museum of Fine Arts to help pay for his master’s degree and was struck by the difference in the art forms he was inspired by and the museum culture he was immersed in.

He remembers feeling that emotions were discouraged at the museum and wanted to create a museum that encourages emotional reaction and interaction from the viewers.

“I had never seen anybody cry; I felt if there was emotion, it wasn’t supposed to be happening there,” he said. “I was, like, ‘This isn’t nearly as interesting as the carnivals I went to.’”

Beck is traveling around New England this summer and fall in the Poetry Mobile, a refurbished 1952 Ford pickup truck and trailer. He said people in other cars are soaking up some poetry as he rolls along.

“Everyone is reading the poems on the truck as we’re driving down the highway,” Beck said. “It’s great to see people respond to literary public art.”

The work of well-known poets, such as Pulitzer Prize winner Rae Armantrout, will join the poems of young students from the Fitchburg area.

“I’m so happy to work with those young poets. They really blew me away,” Beck said. “They are really powerful people, and ambitious, and really believe in the museum.”

Jada Poland, a teen poet whose work is displayed on the Poetry Mobile and in a book of poems by Fitchburg youth, said it was hard to get recognition for her poems before this. But now, people are seeing her work.

“Lots of people reach out and say ‘Your work speaks volumes, ‘and that’s amazing,” she said.

Maria Lovato can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @maria_lovato99.


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