In busy life now, you can stop and read the poems

Sidewalk poems are showing up in the neighborhoods of St. Paul.
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
Sidewalk poems are showing up in the neighborhoods of St. Paul.

It’s no longer just roses that require pause. While ambling through St. Paul, we can now stop and read the sidewalks.

For poetry has sprouted in concrete squares around St. Paul.

The Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk program was created by St. Paul’s Public Artist in Residence, Marcus Young. Support comes from St. Paul Public Works and Public Art St. Paul.

Twenty poems were selected by a poetry panel from more than 2,000 submitted this spring, and each  has been “stamped” in sidewalk cement several times already. More are coming each week, as the Sidewalk Poetry crew follows along with workers installing new sidewalks around the city.

An example:

Advice for Gardeners

Accept brevity.

Celebrate decay.

Emancipate failed growth, hope

it’ll just keep living. Mulch

near odd places. Quit raking.


Tend unlimited variegated words.

Xerox your zucchini.

—Kate Lynn Hibbard

The poems are short, designed to be read quickly and outdoors.

“We were looking for brief moments of delight” in selecting the winning poems, Young said. “We were aware that this would be outdoor reading, which is very different from reading in bed or elsewhere.”

And they had to be “suitable for the public realm,” he said. So, no questionable limericks. Judges read the submissions without knowing the author; several of the winners, though, are established poets, Young said.

She was steward

of  the smallest things: pair of dead bees

in the windowsill, Santa ring,

cluster of elm seeds in their felted cells.

—Eileen O’Toole

The poems have been “typeset” into large stamps which are then inserted into the curing cement to “print” the poems in the sidewalk. Some poems take up one sidewalk square, others need two or three.

They’re already in place in the city’s East Side, North End, Frogtown, Merriam Park and Macalester areas. Some will be installed downtown in the next few weeks.

Wet cement,


It only takes a second

To change this spot forever.

—Zoë Jameson

Some are quite accessible and understandable in a quick, outdoor glance. Others are less so.


On a delicate pappus you rose

Alighted on turf, seeming benign;

Locked into bedrock with pointed toes

Stretched lemon head to the sun.

Hydra, you dodge the mower blade.

I whack you with a spade for fun.

Fine! Senseless to fret.

I’ll transmute gold locks into wine

And eat your children with vinaigrette.

—Tirows Byrd

An open house to celebrate the sidewalk poems will be held Saturday at St. Stephanus Lutheran Church, 739 Lafond Ave., from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (There will be a program at 2 p.m.) There are three sidewalk poems installed within a few blocks of the church.

A hand-bound book containing the 20 winning poems, along with 14 honorable mentions, will be available for $20.

More information at Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by William Levin on 10/02/2008 - 12:03 pm.

    Or perhaps this “Sidewalk Haiku”

    Read as you walk but
    You Dope! Watch out for the cars
    And stop texting please

  2. Submitted by Aaron Petty on 10/02/2008 - 03:37 pm.

    What does this do for the chances of getting St Paul streets plowed? I am always amazed at how poor a job that municipality does when a dreaded winter river crossing occurs.

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