From the Maplewood Arts Council
“There’s a poem in this place.”
That’s the first line of a very long poem on a very large banner hanging—have you noticed?—on the wall of the Baker Street Underpass in Maplewood. The poem is by Amanda Gordon, the U.S. Youth Poet Laureate whom the world heard at President Biden’s inauguration.
Gordon wrote the words metaphorically. But for Maplewoodians, they are literally true. There’s a poem in that underpass. And there are forty poems in this town. Written by Black poets both locally celebrated and internationally renowned, they are on street corners and park walkways and school lawns; we meet them as we do errands, walk dogs, play basketball, and (at long last) go to school. Since last December, when they went up, they have moved and challenged us with the power of poetic truth.
Now, a series of Poetry Pop-Up events in SOMA will bring the poems even more alive, in public readings by local poets and actors. During Juneteenth Week, actors Ami Brabson (Law and Order) and Brenda Pressley (16 Blocks, Detachment), along with local poets Ras Heru Stewart, Eric Shorter, and LeShannon Wright, will give performances featuring some of the poems on display, accompanied by Maplewood shekere virtuoso Ahmondylla Best. Performances include appearances at the Black Merchants Festival (corner Yale and Springfield), June 13, 12:30 pm; Juneteenth at Durand-Hedden House, June 19, 12:30 and 2 pm; Juneteenth at Flood’s Hill, 6 pm.
The community-wide poetry installation, known as the Maplewood Black Lives Matter Poetry Project, is the work of the Maplewood Arts Council; it was funded by donations from residents and is supported by the Township’s Division of Arts and Culture. As part of our public landscape, the poems provide points of reflection during a time of urgent national dialogue around racial justice.
Next time you pass a poem, stop and read it. Use the QR code on the banner to go to a page on the Council’s website that describes the project and provides biographies of all the poets. And during Juneteenth week, come out and hear the words spoken by your eloquent friends and neighbors. There is poetry in this place.
For more information, contact: Tricia Tunstall, email@example.com