Raining Poetry makes wet days in Boston a little less miserable – and a whole lot more surprising.
For most people, rain literally puts a dampener on their day. But one organization in Boston takes a different tack: It considers this love-to-hate-it act of nature an opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of the city’s residents.
Mass Poetry’s mission is simple. It wants to bring Massachusetts’ wordsmiths together, expand and support this community of poets, and spread their work to the masses – making poetry accessible and available to everyone in the state, regardless of age or background.
Poetry for all
More specifically, the Boston-based non-profit wants to bring poetry straight to the people, so they won’t have to comb bookstores or libraries for it. At the same time, the initiative wants to introduce entirely new audiences to poetry, showing that it isn’t the sole reserve of stuffy academics, but something that, given the chance, can affect each and everyone profoundly – whether this juxtaposition of touching words is a sonnet, a haiku, or a rap song.
“We host the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem where we have more than 100 poet-led workshops, discussion, and panels,” states Mass Poetry’s program director Sara Siegel when asked about the initiatives they spearhead. “We also host U35, a reading series for poets under 35 that takes place every other month in Boston. As far as changing the perception of poetry, our strongest work is our Student Day of Poetry, which brings hundreds of middle and high school students to a college campus for writing-generative workshops led by poet-educators. Here, students get to experience the reading and writing of different kinds of poetry and learn that rap, hip-hop, and spoken word are also forms of poetry.”
More recently, though, Mass Poetry has taken the work of its poets to the well-trodden streets of its own hometown. Under the umbrella term Raining Poetry, launched in April 2016 to coincide with National Poetry Month, the non-profit placed four poems – written by notable poets with links to Boston – across the city’s Downtown area.
A collaborative project at its core, Mass Poetry has partnered with the city’s Poet Laureate Program and the City of Boston (the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture), which funded the initial round of the project as well as installing the poems. The project also uses stencils cut by local artists from the Lesley College of Art and Design and the Artisans Asylum. The result is a poetry-street-art hybrid with a twist: All of the poems are invisible and secret. Until it starts to pour.
Repelling water to make art
The entire project is based on Rainworks Invisible Spray, a bio-degradable water-repellant spray. Once the spray has been applied through the stencils and dried on the surface, it disappears – only to reappear on rainy days to surprised Bostonians pounding the streets. The method and science isn’t new – it makes use of a clever product and concept developed by US artist Peregrine Church to cover the streets of Seattle with positive slogans and hopscotch courts – but the reason behind it all? Raining Poetry wants to bring a smile to people’s faces, make them slow down in an increasingly fast-paced, digital world, and expose them to the joys of poetry.
“Seeing an ordinary sidewalk come to life when exposed to water is pretty incredible,” says Siegel. “We’ve had such a positive response – people have reached out from all over the world and New York Magazine made a video that got more than 20 million views on Facebook, which has been incredible. We hope that being surprised by a poem in an unexpected place will make people stop and reflect and brighten a dreary day.”
If you’re thinking that Raining Poetry might have less impact over the summer months, think again. “We typically get rain storms in the summer,” says Siegel. “But when we announced the installation, people got curious. They located the spots and threw water on them.”
Just three months in, Raining Poetry has proven so popular that Mass Poetry already has plans to take the project beyond Boston. “We work strictly within Massachusetts, so we do have early plans to work with some organizations and cities throughout the state,” says Siegel. But that doesn’t mean the initiative can’t spread further afield. For communities across the rest of the US – and indeed the world – Mass Poetry has created a Raining Poetry Guide, a how-to manual for anyone wanting to bring the benefits of magical ink poetry to their own cities.
The future is wet
Closer to home, the next wave of the project is already underway. “I’d love to see the poems move into the neighborhoods,” says Danielle Georges, Boston’s Poet Laureate and Raining Poetry’s curator. “From East Boston to South Boston, from Hyde Park to Roxbury, from Mattapan and Jamaica Plain to Allston – all of the neighborhoods, really.”
“Danielle has chosen our next round of poems,” reveals Siegel. “We’ll be placing poems in more locations throughout Boston, in multiple languages to reflect the diverse population of the city.”
As for Mass Poetry’s other initiatives that look to enrich everyday Bostonian life, it looks like there’ll be no downtime for Siegel and her team anytime soon. “We’re continuing with our other public poetry program – Poetry on the T – and looking for sponsors to get months of poems on to Boston’s public transportation,” she says. “And in September, we’ll host An Evening of Inspired Leaders – an event that brings leaders throughout Massachusetts together to share their favorite poems and what they mean to them.”
For more information, visit Raining Poetry’s website.