an interview with Laura Schley by Ami Maxine Irmen
A few years ago, I had the chance to sit through a panel that discussed the idea of poetry in unexpected places. It included everything from making temporary tattoos to Pop Up Poets (PUP). PUP, based in New York City, enters spaces as everyday citizens and then erupts into poetic verse, creating audiences everywhere from the Q train to the local Whole Foods. The idea of bringing poetry into the lives of people that perhaps normally don’t engage with this form of art intrigued me.
In the past, public art around the U.S. has often been looked down upon. Thankfully, times are changing, and the Green Bay City staff has been working diligently to incorporate public art throughout our city. And currently, the City is working on spreading some poetry. According to Public Arts Coordinator Laura Schley, when the City staff begins talking about a project, they take into account what already exists within a neighborhood – such as sidewalks or lampposts – and go from there. “Staff was already familiar with the [sidewalk poetry] program from Appleton” and with “the approval from the City of Green Bay Redevelopment Authority, we got the green light to move forward.”
Upon approval, a “call for poems was sent out during the month of April, and [they] received over forty original submissions from local poets. The Green Bay Public Arts Commission worked with Denise Sweet to choose the final poems. Denise Sweet served as the second Poet Laureate for the state of Wisconsin from 2005 – 2008. [They] selected five poems this year.”
Each poem then needed to be turned into a hard plastic stamp, created by a CNC Company called Fourth Dimension out of Minnesota. This company has “been creating sidewalk poetry stamps for numerous cities and actually produced the first stamps for the original program based in St. Paul, Minnesota.” (St. Paul started their project in 2008 and has since stamped more than 1,000 sidewalks with 54 individual poems, all written by St. Paul residents.) The stamps, a reverse of the poem, will “leave a relief print of the poem into the concrete.” Which is the next step.
According to Schley, since “[t]he project was approved to start within City parks, we worked with the Parks Department to determine what concrete work they would be doing and to figure out where we could add the stamps into their already existing plans.” The hope is to continue the program, which is funded by the City of Green Bay Redevelopment Authority’s Community Development Block Grant, elsewhere throughout the city.
While the wet weather has stalled the project a bit, the “first stamp has been installed in Jackson Square,” located across the street from the YWCA located on Madison Street. The nice thing about the stamps, Schley notes, “is that even if we are unable to install more at this time, we will certainly be able to stamp in once the weather is cooperating.”
So, as you move through Green Bay, avoiding stepping on cracks, you may find something unexpected – poetry in sidewalks. If you’re a poet, also make sure you are on the look out for next year’s call for original poems in April as there is hope to continue the program.