NOTE: THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE. SEE ALL D & C ARTICLES.
• August 31, 2015
Those musingly following my summer of love picaresque have wincingly witnessed my forays into the higher (and lower) realms of poetry: a raucous impromptu poetry slam at Lux Lounge, the tragic vision of Adelaide Crapsey in Mt. Hope, my own rickety stanzas on the Canal Path, reflections under a tranquil bridge in Pittsford, and now my temporary, “anonymous,” untitled chalk zen poem on the Poets Walk (see at end, I know this is a long post but it’s a long poets walk).
Actually, much of my inspiration springs from a rediscovery of one of our overlooked gemstones, The Poets Walk on University Avenue alongside the Memorial Art Gallery. Ambling and admiring: morning coffee on the Otterness sculptures before SOTA opens to late evening strolls after music at Starry Nites. But what exactly is this sidewalk splattered with so many words like magnetic poetry on refrigerators all about?
To learn more about the Poets Walk, stretching from Goodman to Prince on University as part of the Neighborhood of the Arts, I went to the expert, Kitty Jospé who since its inception has given hundreds of tours. Kitty has been a docent at the MAG since 1998 and, amongst her many accomplishments, received an MFA in creative writing in 2009.
The words inscribed on tiles (pavers) and granite tablets come from poems by DEF poets, BOA poets, Teacher Poets, Living and Dead Poets, Poet Laureates, International Poets who have traveled through Rochester, Aspiring Poets, Just Poets, Rochester Poets.
Poets Walk represents a wonderful sampling of Rochester’s rich literary history. Those from the 19th and 20th century not only different poetic styles (imagist, black mountain school, etc.) but a range of themes such as “being black in America” (whether as slave, or as a young SLAM artist), women’s rights and signed American Sign Language poems.
At least three of the poets live, work and write in Rochester. James Longenbach, Ph.D, teaches English at the University of Rochester. Sam Abrams is Professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Bobby Johnson, who was for many years a counselor at the NYS John Norris Treatment Center, is known by many as Rochester’s jazz poet laureate.
Many people have wondered if they are walking on one long poem. It could be, as in the spirit of a “cento” where the art is in the arrangement of stolen lines. The possibilities for mixing and matching the musical phrasing are endless. I love matching the phrases both to the sculptures outside, as well as to works inside the MAG. It allows a deeper connection with both words in the poems and new ways of understanding the art.
For instance, if you pair the poem, “Looking” by W.D. Snodgrass with the kinetic sculpture, “2 lines up-Excentric, 12 feet” by George Rickey, set in the circle of PrairieDropseed in front of the MAG, the light will catch in the steel arms, scatter like seed in the grasses, and the metal will be transformed into a searchlight, sweeping the air. This enhances for me the words, “what was I looking for today” — and reinforces the multiplicity of art which seeks conversation, not answers.
How does light become seed? Steel become eyes? For both poets and artists, the idea is to engage a reader, a viewer, for there is no work of art without them. Poets walk is a way for everyone to participate in bringing art alive.
Instead of people shrugging at poetry and art as being “too difficult to understand,” poets walk invites curiosity to enter the picture, an active engagement to notice, to wonder and discover.
Mere sound bites! Of course, the whole point is taking the Poets Walk yourself.
Oh, one stanza you will not see. Recently, I lightly painted my own zen sandcastle poem on the sidewalk. Don’t worry, already washed away.
Walkers on my words,
Step by step,
Wearing them down to dust,
Know that I feel your soles.
Happily, Kitty did not object to my sidewalk graffiti:
It shows not only how the blank granite is inviting and waiting for poems, but the process of poetry, as a place for thoughts to find words, and inviting revision, whether by rain, snow, or another passer-by.
Kitty also offered a charitable explication (with some sound reshaping too):
On one of the blank granite “pavers” he chalked these words:
walkers on my words,
step by step
wearing them down to
know that I will feel
My name is
He’s chosen five lines, (1, 5, 3, 6, 7 syllables) but not the cinquain, (2, 4, 6, 8, 2 syllables) which you will find on the walk, invented by its author, Adelaide Crapsey. However, fine alliteration of windy w’s, stuttered st’s, the wearing down with doubling of d’s and the final play of homonyms sole/soul… echoes both the playful sense of the giant limestone Tom Otterness sculptures with a hint of Shelley:
Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
FOR MORE ON POETRY
If you walk the Poet’s Walk with your cell phone, you can hear the entire poems that are only excerpted on the pavers. Access them from MAG’s smartphone app, MAGart 2.0 mag.rochester.edu/aroundmag/multimedia-magart-app/ or by calling 585.627.4132 and entering the first four letters of each poem.
And don’t forget the Story Walk, along Goodman Street, where you’ll hear stories of Rochester.