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Everyday Poems for Everyone in St. Paul

Public Art Saint Paul spreads poetry throughout the sidewalks of the city


"Wet Cement" by Zoe Jameson, photo courtesy of jeannelutz.com

Acclaimed American poet Allen Ginsberg once wrote, “Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.” The project “Everyday Poems for City Sidewalks,” originally created by Marcus Young, who was a city artist with Public Art Saint Paul, follows this notion by inviting everyone in the city to revel in the beauty of poetry—artistically engraved right on the sidewalk.

This project transforms St. Paul into a citywide book of poetry while also working to repair 10 miles of sidewalks each year. 950 poems have been etched throughout St. Paul, all written by the city’s residents. The collection grows year after year thanks to all of the creative contributors who take the time to submit their poems to the annual poetry contest. Unfortunately, no contest was held this year, but eight new poems from 2015 were added to the collection, and 200 poems were stamped last summer. The next contest is projected to take place in the spring of 2017.

No two poems are alike—the poems do not have to follow a specific theme or form. They range from silly, cute rhymes to deep, introspective metaphors. Some are short and sweet:

“A dog on a walk…” by Pat Owen, Photo courtesy of stpaulrealestateblog.com

Others are longer and more thought provoking:

“Tipping the Scales” by Georgia A. Greenly, photo courtesy of pinterest.com    

I like to consider the poems as a gift to the distracted. They call for attention. I’ve seen more than one walker whisk by a poem only to stop abruptly and reverse their steps so they can read the words that are underneath their feet.

“The sky fell on my toes…” By Diego Vazquez Jr., photo courtesy of msthames.blogspot.com

The project has been around since 2008, but continues to surprise, enlighten, and move people throughout their commutes or leisurely strolls—a subtle way to interrupt the mundane and remind us of the ways we are all connected as a community, and as humans.  

My own encounters with “Everyday Poems” have been mostly limited to Grand, Selby, Cleveland, and Summit Avenues, but the poems are dispersed through other areas of the city as well.

It’s beautiful to see people encounter poetry in such a practical, unassuming fashion, a permanent imprint on the city that continues to give in personal and meaningful ways.   

Learn more about the project, annual contest, and contributors at publicartstpaul.org.

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