Poetry in the wild!

The sidewalk reads:
"The new words are ancient
in your hands
moist new meaning."
--Victor Hernández Cruz

What is the group quietly chalking thoughtful poetry around town? They are the Urban Poetry Pollinators, and they invite anyone to come make sidewalks into poems. 

You can join them this week at the Sam Lena-South Tucson Library, Friday, September 22, 4:00-6:00pm.

They will be chalking poems in Spanish and English that celebrate libraries, harvest, and the start of fall, on the sidewalk and courtyard of the library!

Poems and chalk will be provided. Bring the whole family, try out some glitter and spray chalk, and bring a favorite poem if you wish.

I got to interview Elizabeth Salper, the project's Founder and "Poetry Cultivator."

How did the Urban Poetry Pollinators project start?  

Elizabeth Salper: The idea for Urban Poetry Pollinators, (UPP), grew out of the joy I experienced chalking poems on the sidewalk in the Broadmoor-Broadway Village Neighborhood beginning in July of 2014.

Neighbors would run across poems on the sidewalks and benches while walking their dogs, or taking a morning walk. My hope was that the brightly chalked poems would greet and inspire walkers and cyclists, and bring poetry alive outside of four walls.

"Encountering a poem outdoors allows you time with a poem on your own. There are no expectations other than to be with the poem in that moment. I believe things can happen within this framework."

It was encouraging to hear favorable responses circulate about the “phantom poetry chalkings.” I like the idea of chancing across a poem in a public space because it’s an individual delight, yet it also connects us to our larger community.

One neighbor said, “This is just the poem I needed today.” Another neighbor pulled out a poem about acacias by a local poet, and she had just been reading a book about trees with her book club.

I feel that there is a synchronicity that can happen in these experiences! Plus, I am a big fan of the ephemeral…You may encounter a poem at just the right moment, and an hour later the poem might be washed away with a monsoon rain.

"I love a good challenge in terms of poetic curation. I keep in mind the season we are in, what location we are chalking in, what types of food are being harvested this time of year, poems that might produce a belly laugh, and I always toss in poems for dogs!"

I was honored to receive a stART Mini-Grant this February from the Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona to start UPP and continue to spread the joy and love of poetry to public spaces throughout Tucson. I am only one person, though, and the idea is to spark others to pollinate poetry within their own neighborhoods and outdoor spaces.

How do you pick the poetry?

Oh, it’s so much fun! I have been gathering and curating poems since college…a long time ago!  I started a poetry blog, The Wednesday Poem, in 2009, as I personally need a poetry fix mid-week. The blog also offered a place to virtually corral the curated poems.

I pull poems from my personal stash (bookcases of poetry books in my living room), check out books from the public library (of course!), and visit my favorite online poetry sites:

I always remind library patrons what thriving literary organizations we have in our own backyard: Casa Libre en la Solana, Kore Press, POG, and The University of Arizona Poetry Center. Just to name a few.

I also favor our brilliant local poets, as there are so many! Tucson has a fantastic poet laureate, so make sure to connect with TC Tolbert through the Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona!

How would someone join the Urban Poetry Pollinators?

Contact Urban Poetry Pollinators via email at urbanpoetrypollinators@gmail.com, or follow UPP on Instagram @urbanpoetrypollinators. I announce a lot of the UPP events on the Instagram page, but I also send out information via email.

What parts of town have you chalked up?

UPP began community chalking, “Chalk it UPP!”, in June of this year. We meet the first Sunday of each month, from 7:00-9:00am (summer hours). We have chalked poems downtown, on the Reid Park Loop, and on the banks of the Santa Cruz River, to honor our amazing monsoon season. 

What are your goals?

The goal is to inspire neighborhoods and individuals to pollinate poetry in public spaces with the hope of sparking joy, dialogue, and human connection. Poetry pollination ideas are endless… Choose a poem along with a loaf of bread at your local baker, chalk a poem at a public crosswalk or in front of a library, tape a poem to a barber chair, pull a poem from a Poetry Mailbox, hand a poem to your local crossing guard!  Stimulate your own ideas.  

If you need help, or want to consider raising a Poetry Mailbox in your neighborhood, contact UPP, as we are here to help.

Bees, bats, birds, beetles, butterflies, hummingbirds, and moths know how to move and carry pollen best from flower to flower.  Urban Poetry Pollinators aspires to do the same with words.