On the last day of 2023, I stand in an alley with a staple gun. My artist/poet friend Keifer hands me one of the poetry collages we’ve made with our other writer/artist friend Eleanor. It’s our first installation in this public art project — with an accompanying zine (a DIY publication) — in the north and south alleys from 20th-28th streets on St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue. We’re calling these pathways “Poetry Alley.” Maybe other people will start calling it that, too.
We’ve titled the first iteration of this project as “Flowers for the New Year.” Our collages combine black-and-white images of flowers overlaid with text.
A pansy warns don’t trust good-looking people who smile like that.
A sunflower tells us your hair is fabulous.
We’ve made 60 of these collages because there are 60 telephone polls (Keifer counted). We’re putting them up as a gift to the city, an attempt to transform the overlooked alleyways into a conversation. Telephone polls buzz electric messages (I think, I’m not a scientist); our text-based flyers bring those messages to the street (not a scientist, but a poet).
We soon fall into a rhythm of flyer, staple, flyer-staple.
A man walks from the backdoor of a brewery and sees one of our alley poems. He lights a cigarette. I crook my finger around the staple gun’s trigger. The man asks us what we’re doing. We tell him it’s a public poetry project. He says cool. I pull the trigger.
Keifer insists each flyer needs four staples. He also assures me we’re not doing anything illegal. We can staple flyers to these polls like people looking for lost cats. Rusted staples cover the poll like acne. I hope all those cats found their way home.
This project makes me see my home, St. Pete, from a different angle. I’ve walked parts of these alleys on nights in the city, but this installation puts them in a new light.
Alleys are often used as transitional spaces. We traverse their potholes from the bookstore to the coffee shop. We eat sandwiches there on break from work. We hug friends at midnight. The alley’s function is apparent, but its beauty may be less so. We can’t let a dumpster keep us from flowers.
The scraps of our lives can be used to make something bigger than ourselves.
My friends — turned collaborators — continually remind me of this. They help me see a telephone poll’s potential as a canvas. An alley as a gallery. Life as a poem.
“Poetry Alley” is a collaborative project installed on the first of the month. The flyers stay up as long as the weather permits.