October 20, 2021

Black Lives Matter Poetry Project Presents June Poetry Pop-Ups

From the Maplewood Arts Council

Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee reads poem in Memorial Park at project launch, December 2020

“There is a poem in this place.

This is the first line of a very long poem on a very large hanging banner – have you noticed? – on the wall of the Baker Street underpass in Maplewood. The poem is from Amanda Gordon, the young American poet laureate whom the world heard during President Biden’s inauguration.

Gordon wrote the words metaphorically. But for Maplewoodians, they’re literally true. There is a poem in this underground passage. And there are forty poems in this city. Written by both locally celebrated and internationally renowned black poets, they can be found on street corners, in park alleys and on school lawns; we meet them while we go shopping, walk dogs, play basketball and (finally) go to school. Since last December, when they went up, they moved us and challenged us with the power of poetic truth.

Now, a series of Poetry Pop-Up events in SOMA will bring poems to life even more, with public readings by local poets and actors. During the week of June, 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 of Yale and Springfield), June 13 at 12:30 p.m .; June 19 at Durand-Hedden House, June 19, 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.; June 17 at Flood’s Hill, 6 p.m.

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 Arts and Culture Division. As part of our public landscape, the poems provide food for thought during a time of urgent national dialogue around racial justice.

The next time you play a poem, stop and read it. Use the QR code on the banner to access a page on the Council website which describes the project and provides biographies of all the poets. And during the week of June, get outside and listen to the words spoken by your eloquent friends and neighbors. There is poetry in this place.

For more information contact: Tricia Tunstall, [email protected]


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