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Public art project makes poetry pedestrian

The landscape is filled with the written word--but usually for the purposes of advertising or regulation.

Marcus Young, The city of St. Paul's artist in residence, says it's common to come across signage everyday that says things like “Buy one, get one free” or “No guns allowed.” He asks, why not poetry?

That reflection inspired him to start the Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk project, which is now in its fifth year in St. Paul. The idea is to bring beautiful text into the public realm, he says.

Considering that the city repairs up to 10 miles of sidewalk every year, “What better than to transform something mundane, that we take for granted, like the sidewalk system?”

Through the project, which is based on one of his earlier endeavors, poets compete to have their verses chosen to be stamped in wet concrete. The sidewalk becomes a medium for reading and writing, and thus “a walk becomes an experience of reading and imagining.”  

The contest, which has an April 13 deadline, prompts people to “think about what they would like to write in this big book” that is the city.

The city is looking for short, high-quality poems “that say something about everyday life and maybe even capture the moment of reading, looking down [on the sidewalk] and reflecting.” (Read the guidelines here.)

A handful of winners will be chosen in May, and the poems will be stamped onto various residential sidewalks around the city. Winners will also be awarded a cash prize of $150 apiece.

Young hopes that the poems take some people by surprise, and make their walk more enjoyable.

Also, winning poets get to be a part of the process of stamping the concrete slabs with their verses. “We all have the desire to stick our finger into wet concrete,” Young says. “This is that impulse glorified and sanctioned.”
One of his favorite poems to go into “circulation” reads: “A dog on a walk is like a person in love. You can’t tell them it’s the same old world.”

He expects that by the end of the year, 42 poems will be appear in and around the city, many repeatedly.

Source: Marcus Young, artist in residence, St. Paul  
Writer: Anna Pratt
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