The story of the city is written at our feet.
Just look down and read the sidewalk poetry of St. Paul.
Life magazines for shin guards.
Skates too big, stick cracked and old,
jacket patched and tattered.
I ignored the smirks and winter's cold,
love of hockey was all that mattered.
Louis DiSanto wrote that poem in 2011 and it has been stamped into sidewalks, all around town, ever since.
It's easier to get into Harvard than to get one of your poems immortalized as Sidewalk Poetry in St. Paul. Last week, as warm weather lured everyone outside again, the city announced the next 15 poets who will be added to the concrete pages of the story.
Just 88 poems have been selected for the project since 2008, when St. Paul Public Works first started stamping poems into wet cement as they moved around town, repairing cracked sidewalks. Fifteen years later, they appear in almost every neighborhood in almost every corner of town.
Poems about love and heartbreak and frogs and peanut butter. Poems in the Dakota language, written across Dakota land. Poems in English and Spanish and Hmong and Somali. Poems by the people of St. Paul, for the people of St. Paul.
Their words are part of this city's infrastructure. This is home.
Hooyaan ahay, deris baynu nahay.
Jid dheer baan nabad u jaray.
Allow aad is aragtaan ood kala indha buuxsataan
Allow dabaysha nabadda iyo deganaantu na wada daadegtaa.
Allow, aan wadaagnaa waxaan haysanaba.
Fardousa Yossuf's poem was one of the 15 chosen this year.
"My mothers, we are neighbors. Good to meet you," her poem begins. "I have come a long way to peace. May we see each other and fill each other's eyes. May the winds of peace and tranquility flow over. May we share all that we have."
The poetry is a collaboration between the city and the nonprofit Public Art Saint Paul. Like all public infrastructure, sidewalk poetry requires careful, thoughtful planning.
Traditional Hmong poetry is oral, not written, and it is epic — you'd need a boulevard, not one square of cement. The city and Public Art Saint Paul hosted poetry workshops for the general public, for Dakota poets, for Hmong, for Somali, for poets writing in Spanish; all geared toward helping residents hone their ideas down to the few hundred characters that can fit on a stamp.
Each poem appears in multiple places around the city. The 73 poems chosen for the program before this year helped create almost 1,300 neighborhood poetry breaks. That number will grow as sidewalks crack and crumble and work crews patch them up and stamp a lucky few with a reason for neighbors to look down and smile, or sigh, or think as they're out shoveling their walks or walking their dogs.
Some of this year's poets will read their entries on Saturday, June 24, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Raspberry Island, when Public Art Saint Paul's Wakpa Triennial Art Festival kicks off. The event will be a 12-week celebration of public art and exhibits by Twin Cities artists.
The city hosts the sidewalk poetry competition every two years. Only St. Paul residents can enter. Only St. Paul residents can tell this story.
"I'm a daughter of Rondo, five generations strong," said Artika Tyner, author, attorney, University of St. Thomas Law School professor and sidewalk poet. You can find her 2021 love note to her neighborhood, "I Am Rondo," on sidewalks across St. Paul. "I wanted to capture that legacy."
There are no names beside the poems on the sidewalk. All you know, as you walk by, is that someone in your city wrote this for you.
But online, the city maintains an interactive map that plots the location of all the poetry, along with the names of the poets and translations. Click on any dot on the map to read one of the 73 poems currently on the streets. That map will be updated as the 15 new poems find their way into the fabric of the city.
The Sidewalk Poetry contest will return in 2025. Until then, remember the words Susan Downing once wrote for a St. Paul sidewalk.
It is not carelessness
To leave a poem
Visit stpaul.gov/sidewalkpoetrymap to read more.