Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nose to the Ground

I prefer to walk nose to the ground. It is common knowledge that dogs smell the world better than they see or even hear it. As humorist Dave Barry observed, his in-laws’ dog is "a beagle, which means she is, biologically, a nose with feet."

I'm not apologizing for getting distracted on walks now and then. Imagine a giant spaceship breaking through the clouds. Do you think you'd just keep walking? Most smells are like that--impossible to ignore. Perhaps you've experienced walking by a Mississippi storm drain on a summer day. Whoooeee!

Other smells are delicate, fleeting records of events just missed or trails to promised delights. The discarded MacDonald's bag, the lurking trashcan coon, or the drippings of an Izzy's cone on the move. Someone at the dog park last week commented that a dog's experience of sniffing through a field is the equivalent of reading a really good novel. Or a lovely line of poetry.

Nose to the ground in my neighborhood, you might also find written poetry stamped into the sidewalks. In the last year, my Susan and I have read some of these poems over and over. Sometimes a line here, a line there, as we zoom by. Other times we stop to linger and puzzle. I finally decided to find out where they came from.

The project is Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk by Saint Paul’s Public Artist in Residence Marcus Young and friends, Saint Paul Public Works, and Public Art Saint Paul with contributions from 34 Saint Paul poets. I was delighted to learn St. Paul has an Artist in Residence. (It made me wonder if there was also a Dog in Residence position available.  But I probably wouldn't have time anyway.)

Mr. Young describes the project:

"Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk is inspired by the universal, childish desire to draw a finger through tempting wet cement. The project also has higher-minded aspiration. Our public realm, crowded with commercial and regulatory text, could use more poetry. On our modest sidewalks, we hope to create delightful moments of open-air reading, and make public and common the beauty in our hearts as expressed by our poets. Beautiful poetry can be as present and plain as sidewalk, as grass and sky."

I must confess I am a reluctant reader of poems. Poetry can be hard to love. The words are sparse. Each phrase is pruned and tended like bonsai. I'm more of a rip through the field, bramble scramble, bark at the squirrels kind of gal. Poems make me nervous. I'm pretty sure I'm not getting the meaning, not peeling the layers. I'm never swept away by the words. I am distracted by the line breaks. I wait for the rhyme. I squirm under real and imagined scrutiny that I must be moved. A sommelier hands me a glass of fine wine and waits.... uhh...oaky...tastes like chicken?

But I have come to love the written poetry pressed into our city sidewalks. Maybe it is because I discovered them. No one handed me their beating heart. These poems were just there-- to be noticed or to be trod upon as my mood determined. Perhaps it is because they are served up one at a time in bite-sized snacks.  Or maybe it is merely because they have become old familiar friends. Origami bird, dead bees in the windowsill, xerox your zucchini, "Um..I just did," the man replied.

                                                                    photo Chris Roberts

If you aren't fortunate enough to live in my neighborhood or if winter has obscured the words, you can find a slide show of all the 2008 poems (and a great map) at  Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk. And there is a second round coming.  I can't wait to find this 2009 poem:

Whippets love wombats and cheaters love rules,
like canaries love cats and truants love school.
Earthworms drink tea from fine china cups,
and ponies give birth to white black lab pups.
You can see from your ears and smell from your eyes
and you’ll always succeed if you just never try.

                                                        - Kurt Schultz

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