Rain Poetry

An example of 'Raining Poetry' from the Boston campaign is displayed on the sidewalk. The campaign was sponsored by Mass Poetry and the City of Boston in recognition of National Poetry month.

COLUMBIA — From public pianos to decorated traffic boxes and painted street drains, art has found a sanctuary in downtown Columbia.

Kate McIntyre, managing editor of The Missouri Review, noticed one art medium that was missing: street literature.

"You look around Columbia downtown and it's already so full of art, but there's not public literature," McIntyre said. "It seemed like a great way to get literature readily available for people to interact with." 

In an outreach and awareness effort by The Missouri Reviewa literary magazine based at MU, downtown sidewalks will soon reveal hidden poetry. Selected poems will be stenciled onto sidewalks with a water resistant spray that only appears when it rains, leaving behind a water resistant stenciling of the poem which will be visible when the sidewalk is wet.

McIntyre discovered the idea when she read about a similar project that took place in Boston this May.

The city of Boston partnered with the nonprofit organization Mass Poetry to display poems on sidewalks in recognition of National Poetry month. The poems included Langston Hughes' "Still Here" at Dudley Square and Elizabeth McKim's "The Red Thread" in Hyde Park.

Since the local effort will focus on poetry, Leanna Petronella, the Missouri Review poetry editor, was selected to lead the project. Petronella and her team of interns are choosing excerpts that they believe will be fun and accessible for the public, she said.

The authors were chosen to remind residents of "classics of American poetry that you forgot you loved," Petronella said." The 10 selections include mostly American poets; two were authors published in the Missouri Review. 

The poems and their locations will remain secret until the street art reveals itself, probably sometime later this month.

Petronella has talked to store owners with the idea of connecting the poetry on the sidewalk to their businesses. For example, a poem about nature and flowers might appear outside a floral shop.

To create the "raining poetry," staff from the magazine created cardboard stencils of poems. Then, they will apply a water resistant spray onto the sidewalk. This will prevent water from coloring the sidewalk when wet. The dry stenciling of the poem will then be visible on the surrounding wet sidewalk. The spray is biodegradable and will last from six to eight weeks. 

The Columbia City Council was being asked on Tuesday to allow a temporary waiver of a ban on street obstructions, including paint and decorations, to accommodate the street poetry.

McIntyre sees the street literature as a way to remind residents about the magazine and its purpose. 

The Missouri Review is a nationally recognized literary magazine that specializes in identifying work from new writers. Writers from the magazine have continued on to receive the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prizes and other literary honors. 

"Literature widens our understanding of the human experience," McIntyre said. "It expands humans' capability for empathy. It makes us more thoughtful and the world more exciting."

Supervising editor is John Schneller

Samantha Brown is a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.

  • Samantha Brown is a student at the University of Missouri majoring in English and Journalism.

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