Bringing Poetry to the Public in Newton
by Grey Held | July 2016
We’ve asked Grey Held to share with us the great work he’s doing in Newton to bring poetry to the public. For more information, visit poetryinplace.com.
The first project I did in Newton was the Poetry in the Park project, located in Edmands Park, a patch of wild nature at the heart of a leafy but dense suburban city of 85,000. The Edmands Park project featured an open poetry competition with a national reach, from which the panel of judges received almost 200 poems. 14 winning poems were selected to be attached to Depression-era stone pillars that were preexisting in the park. To meet the requirements of a limited project budget, and the goal of permanence with no maintenance costs, I developed a process of prepping the stones of those pillars with a clear epoxy and then affixing the poems using a dry-transfer method. Collectively, with several assistants, it took more than 100 hours of labor to meticulously install the poems.
Cathy Strisik, whose poem, “Magpie” is one of the Edmands Park poems, flew from New Mexico (where she lives) to see the park. Afterwards, she sent me an email—“what a wonderfully fun time we had at Edmands Park, and in the pouring rain!!! I was there with my mother, sister, daughter, and oldest friend from childhood. Walking through the wet leaves along the marsh, stopping to read poems en route...with our umbrellas, with so much laughter. Thank you once again. Such an innovative spectacular project that I feel thrilled and proud to be part of.”
Earlier this year, in conjunction with the Newton Festival of the Arts, I designed another poetry project—this time involving chalking 10 poems about mothers on the steps of Newton City Hall’s War Memorial, where they served as a backdrop for the Newton Ethnic Heritage Festival dance and music performances. What I like about “The Mother’s Day Poetry Project” is that it brings poetry out into the community, honors motherhood, helps facilitate discussions of motherhood in all its richness and diversity, and allows people to experience poetry outside of the usual framework of books. The project garnered 100 submissions, and featured poems that explore the ups and downs of motherhood to evoke memories about people’s experiences—good and bad—with their mothers.
Jeff Baker, a Newton resident said, “I was surprised by my feelings of delight as I approached the steps of city hall with my wife and her sister, both mothers. Even though it was a gray, drizzly day our spirits were lifted as we took in the sight of multi-colored chalked poems on the steps and the bright banners wrapping the columns and then dove deeper to discover and share our reactions to each distinctive poem. The entire construction felt like a playful blessing to start our family celebration of Mother’s Day.”
The Newton Council of the Arts has been supportive by providing grants for both of these poetry projects, and Linda Plaut, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, continues to contribute her vision, encouragement, enthusiasm, and guidance.
Some of my other poetry ventures with the city include a 2015 Memorial Day Poetry reading that was the “opening act” for a musical performance by the 215th Army Band of the Massachusetts Army National Guard. The outdoor performance and reading were held at the Hyde Community Center. Featured poets included five Newton (and surrounding area) poets, including a WWII vet (Freddie Frankel), a poet who collected the stories of allied troops who liberated Nazi concentration camps (Barbara Helfgott-Hyett), the son of a two-star general (me), an Iraq War veteran (Adam Graff), and the mother of an Iraq War veteran (Suellen Wedmore).
Currently I am focused on finding ways to incorporate art and poetry into the city’s redevelopment plans for West Newton’s “downtown” village center. For more about these projects visit poetryinplace.com.
Grey Held is a community activist in Newton, MA, who works with the city to develop innovative ways of bringing poetry into public spaces and public consciousness.
Held, a recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Creative Writing and the author of two books of poetry, has worked closely with the Mayor’s Office for Cultural Affairs in Newton and the Parks and Recreation Commission, to brainstorm, develop and complete various projects in the city.