Sidewalk Poetry: Small Moments that Matter, By Amanda Happy

by | Jun 27, 2018

When I first moved to Saint Paul, I was lonely and unsure of my decisions.

My MFA program hadn’t started yet, my boyfriend was working, I was job-hunting, and the one friend I knew was so busy with her PhD program, she barely had time to eat let alone check on me. I had left a city I was familiar with, a job I knew I could do, family and friends and home, just to pursue writing, this thing I said was my passion.

Most days I walked to a coffee shop or up to the campus to try to write, read, or work on applications. Often I felt more like wallowing in my worries and uncertainties. My walks took me up Hamline Avenue, where I discovered poetry carved into slabs of concrete. Short poems appeared on almost every block, right around the corners.

They are all short poems, sweet and refreshing, and they became a guide to me. They were my path leading to school, a reminder of what I am pursuing. Somehow they brought me joy. In my head I made them a sign that I had chosen the right place to be, that any city that puts poetry on their sidewalks must be a beautiful place.

I have several people to thank for making these sidewalk poems happen.

First, the project is called Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk. It started in 2008 as part of the sidewalk maintenance program (since the city has to repair sidewalks every year, why not make them special). The goal is basically to create “a city-sized book of poetry.” According to the Public Art Saint Paul website (http://publicartstpaul.org/project/poetry/#about_the_project), 17% of city land is in walking distance to a poem now.

Marcus Young developed this program as a City Artist. He specializes in behavioral and social practice art and has been working with the city since 2006. His goal as a city artist has been to redefine the role of an artist working within government and to make art accessible. Because of his idea, the city has installed over 900 poems.

The poems that appear on the sidewalks have been submitted by local Saint Paul residents through a yearly contest. Here are the winners of the contest since 2008: http://publicartstpaul.org/project/poetry/#poems-poets.

The contest is currently closed, but you can email questions about it to Aaron Dysart, a current City Artist.

Thus, thank you Marcus Young and Saint Paul for creating this project and giving people poetry. Thank you for sharing with me a moment that has mattered.

One poem in particular struck me on my walks (and I have to preface I am not a baseball fan or more that the sport has never thrilled me). The poem is called “Steal It” by Ryan Ross:

Go.

Feel the rush.

Speed.

Take off.

The throw.

The catch.

The slide . . .

. . . Safe.

The poem seems so simple that at first I hardly paid attention to it. Yep, that’s a baseball poem, I thought. But as I kept seeing it walk after walk, it hit me that this poem is for me, about me. This poem is about risk, about losing one’s self in the daring of trying. This poems says to pursue the thing you love and honor the moments in that struggle. The poem suggests a hopeful ending, but the thrill is in the action, in going for something, regardless of the ending.

Well, I teared up. This was my reminder. I am here to write, to dare, to try, and it is important to feel all of the moments in this risk.

Author:

Amanda Happy

Amanda Happy

Editorial Board Member

Amanda Happy is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Hamline University. Her focus has been poetry, but she is unequivocally falling for creative nonfiction and hybrid writing. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Amanda has made a home under the leafy archways of Saint Paul. She misses the sunflower fields but likes walking the Twin Cities, daring them to share their secrets. 

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