Poetry Where We Are

When I see blank signs along the roadway, I usually think of a poem that would fit on them. That one would be just perfect for a Yeats’ line or that one could fit an entire Dickinson. I like signs that were once something and the writing has all faded out so that they are signs about nothing now.

I was just in San Francisco, where I walked all over downtown, the Tenderloin,  Nob Hill,  Telegraph Hill, Chinatown, Lombard Street, Mission and Market. I wanted to see how this city, known for its support of poetry, brought it to the people. It’s cool to walk around and suddenly find yourself in the midst of poetry.

Some of the bus stop signs had poetry on them. The memorial to Martin Luther King at Yerba Buena Park had select lines from his speeches, the most poetic ones, etched into the concrete. People like to graffiti work vans in San Fran, a good substitute for trains—some poetry there.

Homeless guy in front of a Catholic church on Market kept shouting, “And I said it,” which if you repeat often enough with the emphasis that he had . . . is poetry. Down by the Ferry Market is a memorial to volunteers that is a collection of poetry and sayings on one side and a series of photographs of the poets and others on the other side.

In the Museum of Modern Art, one of the exhibits featured a large room where a woman sat in one corner and typed on a laptop at a desk, and the focal point of the room was a projection of her words against the wall. She was describing and commenting on the people who were actually walking into the room and looking at the other artworks.

I asked her, “Are you a poet?” And she kind of laughed and said, “No.” And I said, “Well, you are writing poetry—the best kind, observations and descriptions.”

Walt Whitman said that great audiences were needed in order to have great poets. That’s why poetry ought to be everywhere we are.

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