A Foot Forward

Putting My Foot Forward

Early in February, while most people were thinking about hearts, flowers, and chocolate, I was paying attention to the color gray – specifically the dull gray of the Creative Pinellas gallery floor. Advance preparation for the Emerging Artist Exhibition meant I wanted to design my project to fit the display space.

As a writer, I work with words. How would I like to present the seven poems that I wrote during the grant period? Did I want them on broadsheets or posters on the walls? Neither of those options appealed to me. Roughly six percent of Americans read poetry; the many and varied visitors to the gallery might glance briefly at a short poem on the wall, then move on to the visual richness of others’ exhibits. I wanted them to stop and listen.

I decided to take a risk and do something well out of my comfort zone. Sometimes that what grants are for – to experiment or push into a new direction.  One of my friends suggested: how about a poetry walk? Get people to walk from one poem to another. I imagined framed lines on stands like those in post offices, pharmacies, deli stations. Stand here. Take a number. The concept had multiple connotations, not all of them inviting.

Covid memories popped up and gave me a template. During those years of isolation, floor signs on the floors of public buildings, supermarkets, doctors’ offices, and libraries directed us to be careful and keep our distance. The signage, discreet but influential, got people’s attention. The idea evolved. Could I record the poems and place indicators on the same kind of floor signs?

Knowing I was over my head, I contacted a former colleague at St. Petersburg College, Professor Chad Mairn, director of the Innovation Lab on the Seminole campus. He volunteered as sound engineer to supervise and edit my recording of the seven poems on Garage Band, a Mac application. Also, using AI technology, we searched for an image to portray the spirit of questioning in these poems. I learned more about recording, SoundCloud and QR codes.  I found a print shop in St. Petersburg, stumbled through an explanation of my concept and gave a sigh of relief when the manager said, “Oh yes, we do floor decals.” That was the trade word! Now I grew more confident.

Throughout March, pressing toward a deadline from each poem I worked with Mike, the print shop’s graphic designer. I selected a phrase from each poem to display on each of the vinyl decals. A new question emerged. What shape, rectangle, oval, square would best compliment the gallery’s natural light and angular walls? Circles, it seemed, would best match and contrast with the interior space. I referenced a design database to find an attractive frame with the right background color options. I considered both serif and sans-serif typefaces. Mike and I had several conversations, all characterized by the sense of urgency a deadline inspires. By the beginning of April, my poems and their QR codes were in production. Now, everything was out of my hands.

When I picked up my 24×24 inch decals from the printer and delivered them to the gallery, I saw for the first time the poems as artifacts and wondered how those circles would look positioned on the gray gallery floor. What phrase from one of the decals might pique a visitor’s interest?  I wondered if visitors would really train their phones on the QR codes and listen to my readings. As the reception opened, I entered the exhibition’s venue and saw the decals in their golden frames glowing across the gray floor. Through my installation, “A Walk Among Words,” I’d put my foot forward on this unfamiliar path. Now the audience would have its say.

Past the excitement of opening night, I visited the gallery again to take a quiet look at the exhibits surrounding mine. Sitting on a bench in the main room, a phone to her ear, Jodi from my yoga class listened to a poem. Not long after, a friend’s email said, “I took pictures of each circle. I can listen to the poems at home using the QR codes.” Imagine. That possibility had not occurred to me.  Between my first thoughts and their execution, a series of changes have occurred to me. I found myself thinking about the difference between spoken word and page poetry. My poems, not yet in print form, sit in the gallery until the middle of July, words on the floor, waiting to be retrieved through technology rather than traditionally. The process itself unraveled slowly as does a poem, giving me a new view of conception, revision, publication.




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