Stumbling across poetry in St. Paul

  • Updated: September 19, 2008 - 2:21 PM

Poetry embedded in a sidewalk at the corner of Grotto and Ivy in St. Paul's Como neighborhood.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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By Laurie Hertzel

Walking my dog through my St. Paul neighborhood on a rainy Sunday, I looked down and saw a poem. Right there in the sidewalk, at the corner of Grotto and Ivy.

A whimsical, unsigned poem embedded in the concrete. This hadn't been scrawled by a vandal with a stick; this was professionally done, nicely lettered, carefully pressed into wet cement.

Bad day

The red lid unscrewed

from the jar of extra crunchy

almost empty

and the full, mounded spoon

half shoved in my mouth

says it all --

I don't want to talk.

The poem is one of 20 that have started appearing in sidewalks since July. The project is the brainchild of Marcus Young, St. Paul's artist in residence, who was looking for ways to incorporate art into everyday projects.

And what could be more everyday than a sidewalk? He got together a group, held a competition, chose 20 poets, and teamed up with the Department of Public Works.

Already these 20 poems have shown up in about 50 places all over town, with a goal of 100 by the time sidewalk repair season ends.

The poems have also been published in a book, with a release party to be at 1 p.m. Oct. 4 at St. Stephanus Church, 739 Lafond Av., St. Paul. The project is funded by the nonprofit group Public Art St. Paul and a STAR grant.

Of course, I didn't know any of this as I stood in the drizzle, Riley snuffling at the wet leaves. I just read the poem and walked on, smiling at what felt like a secret gift, an unexpected and delightful surprise.

Also...

• Students at Champlin Park High School spent the summer reading "American Born Chinese," written by Gene Luen Yang and a finalist for the National Book Award. This fall, teachers engaged students in discussions and activities related to the book. All of this will culminate this week with a visit from the author, who will be here Monday and Tuesday. Yang will also give a talk at 7 p.m. Monday at the school. That event is free and open to te public.

• The Midwest Booksellers' Choice Awards will be presented Friday in St. Paul. Recipients include Nancy Horan, author of "Loving Frank"; Mildred Kalish of Iowa, for "Little Heathens"; Patricia Hampl of St. Paul, for her memoir, "The Florist's Daughter"; Ted Kooser of Nebraska for "Valentines"; Joy Morgan Dey and Nikki Johnson, both of Duluth, for "Agate: What Good Is a Moose?" and Anne Ylvisaker, formerly of the Twin Cities, for "Little Klein." Honorable mentions include Kate DiCamillo, Leif Enger and Deborah Keenan.

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss is the first writer in this season's Pen Pal lecture series. Beschloss, a contributor to "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and author of nine books, will be at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, 1111 Mainstreet, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and at 11 a.m. Friday. There is a charge. For tickets, go to www.uptowntix.com.

Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302

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