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Mass Poetry installs latest sidewalk poems

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Mass Poetry installs latest sidewalk poems
Artists install poetry outside the Dudley Cafe. (Photo: Photo: Courtesy Sara Siegel)

They say when it rains it pours, and in Boston it pours poetry. The Mass Poetry Project, a non-profit fostering poetry writing and appreciation, has installed the 2017 editions of “Raining Poetry” in collaboration with the City of Boston. The art installations feature short poems stenciled into the sidewalk with a biodegradable, water-repellent spray that only shows up in the rain. In locations all over the city, the surprise poems bring light to dreary weather.

On the Web

Find a full list of the poem locations at www.masspoetry.or…

Boston’s Poet Laureate, Danielle Georges, selects poems from submissions by local writers. They span a range of topics and languages, sometimes relating to the location. Sara Siegel, program director at Mass Poetry, says the city handles the placement of the poems, but they try to pair each piece with matching surroundings, for example water poems near a fountain.

Poet Charles Coe has “Mnemonic” featured in the project, at the central branch of the Boston Public Library, and at America’s Food Basket and the Mildred Avenue Community Center in Mattapan. “We need to enliven our city space,” he says. “We need something that appeals to the spirit, not just the pocketbook.” A fan of Etheridge Knight and Robert Frost, Coe often writes about nature in an attempt to draw eyes from the concrete to the foliage.

The solution used to stencil the poems into the sidewalk only lasts six to eight weeks, bringing a level of transience to the poetry. Leslie University art students and Black Cat Labs, a Somerville-based design firm, stenciled in the artworks. Though the poems are repeated in different locations, each one is designed in a unique typeset for a different reading experience every time. The seven poems are dispersed throughout the city, including “A Dictionary of Limbo” by Jennifer Militello, at Dudley Café in Roxbury, and Burke School and Flat Black Coffee in Dorchester.

For Siegel, the most powerful moment of the Raining Poetry project has been the installation. When installing the 2017 poems, bystanders recognized the project from its first round in 2016. She says it was a great achievement to know that people were watching and appreciating the art project. This, too, satisfies Coe’s desire to bring people into the natural world. He says, “I would like people to put down their phones and think about the nature in front of them.” And it seems, at least after the Instagram is posted, that they are.

Siegel hopes that the poems inspired readers to look into the other work Mass Poetry does. Beyond that, she sees the importance of bringing artwork into unexpected spaces. She says, “Public art in particular shows that cities don’t just have to be utilitarian. They can be a community.”