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Current State's Public Poetry Announcements are brought to you by the Center for Poetry at MSU's Residential College in the Arts and Humanities.

Sidewalk Poetry Project Kicks Off Around Lansing

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Jamie Paisley
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WKAR-MSU
Cruz Villareal's poem Mi Pueblo found at Lansing's Brenke Fish Ladder

If you’ve gone walking around Lansing over the past couple of weeks, you might have seen something on the sidewalk: Poetry. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley has more about this public art, the Lansing Sidewalk Poetry project.

Imagine you’re heading to grab a bite in Old Town Lansing, or take in a game at Cooley Law School stadium, but there’s stuff on the ground that catches your eye. It’s not chalk or anything, it’s words engraved in the pavement itself. This is the Lansing Sidewalk Poetry project.

"This, it's a grant from the city of Lansing," says Rulaine Stokes, president of the Lansing Poetry Club, at the opening gala which was held at the Lansing Art Gallery in downtown, "through the Lansing Economic Development Corporation and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing to elicit poems about place, about people's connection to specificly four neighborhoods in Lansing: Old Town, REO Town, the Stadium District, and the East Side. We got 76 submission and then we had a panel of judges who worked to try and narrow it down to 8 poems. And then we had our winners and then the whole process of engraving the poems in the sidewalk. So it's been a nine month process."

Even before this official launch of the Lansing Sidewalk Poetry project, Lansing mayor Andy Schor had a poetry run-in while out with a city hall colleague. "We took the Grab-and-Go, the new shuttle, up to Old Town to have lunch and there is was in the sidewalk." recalls Mayor Schor. "It was really exciting. You know, you talk about it, and you hear about it, and you see it right there on the street. So, it was awesome. It's an important part of who we are in Lansing. We are artistic, we are cultural, we love to share about ourselves and now you can walk on the street and see poetry right on the street. It's part of the atmosphere."

Another of the organizers of the Sidewalk Poetry project is Lansing’s inaugural Poet Laureate, Dennis Hinrichsen. Hinrichsen didn’t know how this project would go, either in terms of entries… or where across Lansing the poetry would physically go. "No, it was - there was no way to actually identify the spots, prior to identifying the winners, because this is about place. So the poem determined the place. So, once we had the 8 winners and I got my tape measure and I drove around town looking for clean concrete and tried to match the poem to the place. So when you look at a poem about the Shiawassee Street bridge, you're looking at the bridge. When you reading a poem about Old Town and its Hispanic heritage and the Brenke Fish Ladder, you're standing on the Brenke Fish Ladder."

The poet whose work is now on permanent display at the Brenke Fish Ladder in Old Town Lansing is Cruz Villarreal. The engraving of his poem, Mi Pueblo, was something he definitely wasn’t going to miss when the time came. "Dennis calls me up and says 'Hey dude! They're putting in your poem!'" says Villareal. "And so I slam on the breaks, turn around, head to the ladder, and yeah. Oh my God, that's when it all, you know, like, wow, this is really happening. They're actually putting my poem in the concrete. I'm in stone, dude!" It was simple as for why Old Town is important to Villarreal. "Any community action that happened in Lansing was born there. It was where Latinos congregated. It's where anything, any kind of activism, or any issue that needed to be resolved was born in Old Town, north side, right? That's why the poem has that. That's why the poem is in spanish and english. It's a marriage. That Latino heritage there, that history there. Now I feel like it's not going to go away."

Click here to visit an interaction version of the map below featuring the locations and poet information on all 8 of the Lansing Sidewalk Poetry locations found across Lansing.

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Map of the 8 Lansing Sidewalk Poetry project locations.

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