The Art of Intentionality

I apologize in advance for the hastily-written nature of this post.  I did not intend for this to be today’s entry, but I had to get this content up as quickly as I could.

I just had to.

I also apologize in advance to Mr. Billy Collins.  To you, sir, I would like to say that should you ever in the future come across this post (A person can dream, can’t he?), please understand: I had no idea what was going to happen.  I was horribly offended, for your sake, and for the sake of poets and poetry everywhere, and did my due indignant diligence.  Your poetry is very dear to me.  I in no way intended the defamation or defacement that occurred during the event about which I am writing today.  I am sure, however, that you have a fantastic sense of humor about such things. 

At least I hope so.

A few weeks ago, I became inspired by this article: Poetry has the Power to Inspire, to Foster Community.  I also ran across this art project on Stumleupon: “Before I die, I want to ________” street art.  I continually thought about these two articles for the next several days.  I really wanted to try something like this on my own.  I pondered it long and hard, and eventually I decided I would do it; I was going to hang some poetry in a public place and see what would happen.

To get started, I to decide on the first poem I would display (I write “first” because I intend for this to be a regularly occuring thing).  I considered one of Pablo Neruda’s love poems.  I thought something by E. E. Cummings would be unique and inspiring.  I even considered something as quintessentially American as Whitman or Frost.  In the end, I decided on Billy Collins’s “The Dead.” I know that I have a bit of an infatuation with Mr. Collins, but I believe it is justified.  I find that his poetry is great for introducing readers not comfortable with the genre. He lures one in with apparently simplistic forms and vocabulary, and once “in,” he turns the poem on the reader, and suddenly he or she is thinking about something.  I decided on “The Dead” because it is a relatively short poem, and I did want to arrange things so that my neighbors would be more likely to stop, read, and participate. In the end, here’s what I did:

This was my attempt at a little community building project in my apartment building.

I hung the paper above my building's mailboxes. I also attached a string and an ink pen so that people could record their thoughts on "The Dead."

I was really excited.  I couldn’t wait to see what happened.  I have always been able to solicit from my students fantastic responses to poetry, and I thought that I might be on to something cool here.

I guess one might already be able to tell by the tone in my writing that things did not go the way I believed they would go.

Before I write any further, I need to mention a couple of things.  First, I live in an affluent area of St. Louis County.  Second, I live in a pretty nice apartment complex.  The majority of the tenants are families and medical students at Washington University.  Thirdly, there are no teenagers or tween-agers living in my particular building.  The mailboxes, where I hung the paper, are each located in the buildings with their corresponding apartments. There are only eleven apartments where I attempted this exercise, thus, only eleven mail boxes. I know all of my neighbors (even the new guy *ahem), which is interesting, because it gives me a sneaking suspicion who is the author (*ahem) of the brilliant comments to be displayed momentarily.  That is neither here nor there, however, except to reiterate that I do not believe a teenager responded to my poem. I have seen teenagers respond to poetry.  I know what teenage thought and writing looks like.  I am a high school teacher, after all.

Anyway, I thought that the worst that could happen would be that no one would respond to the poem.  Days would go by, someone might steal my pen, but Mr. Collins would receive no comments. Perhaps it would be removed by apartment staff for some weird lease agreement violation.

At worst. 

All of this information is intended to assist with the  illustration of my consternation as I write this post.

I taped up the paper at around 11:30 on Sunday night.  I was hoping to inspire a little intrigue on Monday morning as the majority of my ambitious, adult, well-educated neighbors headed out the door on their respective ways to work.  I went to sleep that night with dancing visions of profound reflections being written down on my humble piece of paper, idea-provoking conversation happening over poetry around my mailbox, and a long, illustrious future of sharing poetry upon a public wall in my place of residence.

I had plans the next day to meet up with friends early in the morning so that our kids could play together.  I have to admit that during the calamity of waking a two-year-old, feeding her, dressing her, and getting her out the door, I forgot about my activities from the previous evening.  Fewer than ten hours after taping the sheet of paper to the wall, I walked downstairs from my apartment, daughter in tow.  I glanced at the wall on my way out the door, and behold! There was a flurry of scribbling, all over my piece of paper! I was ecstatic.  I rushed over to read the comments.

As I approached the wall of mailboxes, and I could finally make out the writing, I froze, not quite understanding what I was seeing:

If it was such a waste of time, why did you stand there and write it all? Hey, at least now you are a published writer.

I still have no words for this.

I immediately took it down.  Not so much because I was ashamed, frustrated, or defeated, even though there was a little of those things.  No, it was because I didn’t want any of my other neighbors to be subjected to such ridiculousness.

I think I am going to try again, after I rethink my approach. I will try a new poem, too.  I now see this as a personal vendetta, and I will not give in! 

More to come.

Hey, at least the person that wrote this didn’t take my pen…

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