Cambridge offers concrete rewards for art with rollout of Sidewalk Poetry Program

Sidewalk poem
St. Paul, Minn., has stamped 470 poems into sidewalks since 2008, including this one by Esme Evans. (Photo: Jill Kane)

Poets, alert! If you lament your arts’ tendency toward the transitory, Cambridge’s Sidewalk Poetry Program can get your words stamped into freshly poured sidewalk and last for a generation.

Any Cambridge resident of any age is invited to submit up to two short poems online to the 2015 Sidewalk Poetry Contest, so they can be blind-reviewed by a selection committee made up of a former poet populist, a Cambridge high school student and representatives from the sponsoring city agencies: Public Works, the Public Library and Cambridge Arts.

The winners will enliven what would otherwise be routine sidewalk repairs. Now when Public Works pours sidewalk panels, it’s a chance to stamp winners’ poems throughout the city.

The first poem has already been selected for installation this spring. A working group of a resident and staff from Cambridge Arts and the Public Library chose a short poem from “On the River,” a collection of Cantabrigians poems edited by Peter Payack, former poet populist, to go on a sidewalk at the Cambridge Community Center on Callendar Street.

The Cambridge program, in the works since a resident suggested it two years ago, takes St. Paul, Minn., as a model, according to officials at Public Works, Cambridge Arts and Public Library. St. Paul began its sidewalk poem program in 2008, inspired by artist Marcus Young (as artist-in-residence for the Department of Public Works!), and now has 470 poems in city sidewalks. An example closer to home: the poetry stamped into bricks on the platform of the Davis Square T stop.

The details on how to submit poems are here, including the email address to which the poems go. The deadline for submissions is 11:59 p.m. April 12, and winners will be announced April 30.

More details were asked of officials at Public Works and Cambridge Arts, and this post will be updated if they respond.


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