St. Paul gearing up to add more poems to city sidewalks


Origami Bird
You have great long wings
To fly
Why do you sit still?

This poem, by Madeline K. Schuster, is one of 20 poems already imprinted on sidewalks throughout St. Paul. This month St. Paul residents have another opportunity to submit a poem that could be made immortal by being stamped into wet concrete.

The Everyday Poems for City Sidewalks program, created by Marcus Young, the St. Paul Public Artist in Residence, brings art to the community and incorporates poetry into everyday living.

Young said the idea for the program emerged when he started thinking about each square block of sidewalk as an empty page. “If every city block has 30 empty pages it suggests that we live in a big blank book. It’s time to start writing in it,” he said.

How to submit your poem
Poem submission deadline for 2009 is May 29th. Only St. Paul residents can submit poems. There is no age limit. 20 Poems are selected each year through an anonymous process. Winners also receive a cash prize of $150. The winners are announced on June 26th. See full submission guidelines at city website.

Young sees this program as a way to give sidewalks back to the citizens and to “create delightful moments of reading outside.” Instead of having to plan a day at the museum or drive over to the sculpture garden, Young says that sidewalk poetry is “art that comes to you.”

Young’s position of Public Artist in Residence is a new experiment in St. Paul, to see how an artist can contribute to city planning by working alongside other professionals who are building and maintaining cities. He is employed by Public Arts St. Paul, a non-profit arts foundation, but his office is in City Hall. As a conceptual and behavioral artist, Young wants to create public art that will enhance the aesthetic quality of city life and change outdoor behavior.

To read all the poems selected last year, to see pictures of the stamping process, or for a map of sidewalks with poems go the Public Arts St. Paul website.

Each of the 20 poems that are chosen each year is made into a big rubber stamp that can be used multiple times. The poems are pressed into wet concrete in an average of five different places in St. Paul, so about 100 squares of sidewalk have poems now, and after this year there will be 100 more.

The location of the poems is determined by where a sidewalk already needs replacing. Young says Everyday Poems for City Sidewalks is a sustainable project because the program works collaboratively with regular city planning, so the poems are stamped when concrete needs to be made and laid anyway.

Because the poems are chosen through an anonymous process, everyone has an equal chance of winning. Young said that a few of the poems chosen last year were written by established and well known poets, but poems written by elementary and high school students were also chosen.

“Poems likely to be selected are those that are simple and honest, something that is unexpected,” Young said.

Young is also an artistic advisor to Metro Transit for choosing public art that will be displayed at the 15 new light rail stations, as well as the creator of “Wishes for the Sky,” an annual day of wishes held every Earth Day on Harriet Island.

Mysti Strege is a student at Hamline University and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.

Support people-powered non-profit journalism! Volunteer, contribute news, or become a member to keep the Daily Planet in orbit.