September 23, 2015 by Amy Bagwell
The Wall Poems of Charlotte projects helps bring poetry into everyday spaces, and just finished its second work. Here, founder Amy Bagwell writes about why and how the Knight-funded effort got started.
That fewer than 10 percent of American adults read or listen to poetry in a given year is not a failure of the people. If we substitute the word encounter in that statistic for the words read or listen to, we begin to get at it.
It’s about access. Poetry, like jazz, has been expropriated so that it seems almost solely the realm of the affluent, the hyper-educated. This blood-and-guts expression, like jazz, is a something that feels remote to most people. Dead.
My creative partner Graham Carew and I were lucky. Poems have been available to us all our lives. My mom had Rod McKuen records when I was a kid. These weren’t poems I fell in love with (that started with E.E. Cummings), but they were poems, and they were in my house. Graham grew up in Ireland, blessed with a culture that appreciates and emphasizes broadly its poetic heritage.
Today, poetry is published too little and at a loss, and it’s left to slim, hidden shelves in box stores, and it’s taught, as Tony Hoagland has so eloquently and hilariously examined recently, abysmally—as autopsy, even when we have the best intentions.
And the crime in all of this is that poetry, which can be transformative, belongs to everyone.
Poetry is an action, and this is a fact I keep in mind. —Yusef Komunyakaa
We like to think that our work in Charlotte with Wall Poems is an action in response to poetry being gone from most of our lives. We’re directly inspired by the 101 Leiden Walls in Holland, poems painted in their native languages by a trio of genius activists and artists (who offered us generous, keen advice when we visited last January.) Our friend and mural artist Scott Nurkin, of The Mural Shop, paints the poems on walls, an act of magic on the eccentric, gnarly, terraced, weather-chewed surfaces we often address. And we’re now working on two metal pieces as well. The designs are created in 3D as interpretations of the poems and as extensions of the lives (present and past) inside the walls they’re on, adjacent to them, across from them.