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Boston's Secret Sidewalk Poems Add Some Cheer to Rainy Days

It’s the latest city to make something pretty out of dreary weather.

Mass Poetry

As East Coast cities continue to endure an unending spell of rain, many locals have started to forget that the sun even exists. But, over in Boston, it seems one group has discovered a silver lining to their cloudy days. Thanks to a partnership between Boston’s City Hall and Mass Poetry, a nonprofit that supports the Massachusetts poetry community, the city’s showers are being transformed into a hidden art project.

The project, appropriately titled “Raining Poetry,” uses biodegradable water-repellent spray to stencil poems on Boston's concrete streets. On a sunny day, the letters remain invisible. But once water hits them, the words of famous poets suddenly reveal themselves to unsuspecting passersby. In Roslindale and Uphams Corner, residents can encounter the untitled poems of Barbara Helfgott Hyett and Gary Duehr. Outside the Hyde Park Library, pedestrians can stumble across “Water” by Elizabeth McKim. And in Dudley Square, the words of Langston Hughes’ “Still Here” cry out from the sidewalk.

The project began on April 1 as a kickoff to National Poetry Month, with four new poems added throughout the city on May 13. Inspiration for the project came from the city’s arts and culture chief, Julie Burros, as well as Michael Ansara, the co-founder of Mass Poetry. The May 13 poems were selected by Boston’s Poet Laureate, Danielle Legros Georges, and each poem has been installed by a local youth group, the Mayor's Mural Crew.

“It was important to have the first poems for this project be somehow connected to Boston,” Georges said in an interview on the Mass Poetry website. “I wanted to draw work from poets influential in the Boston-area literary, educational, or cultural realms.”

But Boston isn’t the only city to feature water-activated street graffiti. Back in 2013, the artist Nathan Sharratt used hidden stencils in Atlanta. And last year, CityLab’s Tanvi Misra detailed a similar project in Seattle.

Although the biodegradable spray wears off in six to eight weeks, the city of Boston hopes to install additional poems in more diverse areas, and even introduce poems in other languages. “We want to bring poetry to the people,” says Sara Siegel, the program director at Mass Poetry. “This is a fun, quirky way to do that.”

It’s also a chance to expose Boston residents to the rich history of their city, which was once home to poets like Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, and e. e. cummings. Indeed, what better way to honor Boston’s literary greats than to look to their words as cures for a gloomy day?

H/t Atlas Obscura

About the Author

  • Aria Bendix
    Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.