This new artistic initiative invites West Philly to write a poem together
Parita Patel hadn’t planned to write poetry on Wednesday night. Patel was walking Lancaster Avenue after work, as she regularly does, when she saw the pop-up booth outside The Pearl Beauty Emporium where passers-by could request a poem to be written on the spot and write their own.
Artist Marshall James Kavanaugh, the poet who created the project, had installed a large heart-shaped structure containing a large parchment, which fed a typewriter open to anyone who was inspired by it. This scroll is a ‘West Philly Community Poem’, where visitors are invited to share words about the history and future of the neighborhood.
Patel, 28, a research coordinator for Penn Medicine, typed on the large parchment that she hoped to see unity between people, to see people loving and helping each other, because it doesn’t look like the pandemic is going to end. will end soon.
âIt’s actually very touching that everyone is literally writing down something they want or dream of,â Patel said of the scene after she stood up from the typewriter. “It’s very thoughtful.”
This pop-up, which will return outside of The Pearl Beauty Emporium on August 29, is one of five Everyday Places Artist Partnerships, an initiative that aims to bring art into community spaces in West Philly. Barnes West, a collaboration between the Barnes Foundation, the People’s Emergency Center and the PEC Community Development Corporation, supports the five partnerships, each of which matches a neighborhood artist with a West Philly business or center. Beyond Kavanaugh bringing poetry pop-ups to The Pearl, Everyday Places includes:
Andrea Walls from the Museum of Black Joy at the Center for Carceral Communities, 4020 Market St.
Jahwula Seapoe with hybrid yoga / creative writing workshops, via Zoom and in person at Clara Muhammad Square, 4700 Lancaster Ave., and One Imperial Caribbean & Seafood, 725 N. 42nd St.
Karen Smith with art workshops including crafts, poetry and percussion at Silk Tent, 3860 Lancaster Ave.
Keyonna Butler with workshops on how to recycle old fashions at Kanvas Event Center, 3870 Lancaster Ave.
Pearl Bailey-Anderson, who co-owns her beauty salon La Pearl with her daughter, Knekeya Payne, is excited to be part of the project. Payne and Bailey-Anderson hope this provides an outlet.
âBecause of the violence that’s going on right now, it must be something that these young people feel the need to speak out about – they need to be assertive, they need to know that they have power, and they’re doing it the wrong way, “Bailey-Anderson said.” A lot of times people think their voice doesn’t matter. And so with that, it lets them know their voice matters. “
Kavanaugh has been doing his version of âpoetry on demandâ for about eight years, in Philly and other cities. Here he often sets up a typewriter in Clark Park and Rittenhouse Square. Doing poetry in public, he learned, can be a “healing medium” that gives people space to “work things through, through poetry.”
With emotions that can be difficult to express, he explained, poetry offers a chance to find a language for them. As the words reach deep within us, poetry can touch without touching, he continued.
âIn our time, right now, we have the experience of being really disconnected from each other,â Kavanaugh said. âPoetry has the ability to put words to all of these experiences and then connect us to those senses, these sensations, the sensual side of the human experience in a safe way. You can readâ¦ and feel better and you feel more connected.
In the two-hour stand at the booth on Wednesday, about 30-40 people stopped by, some adding thoughts to the parchment, others asking for poems from speech artist Lindo Yes and young Philadelphia poet laureate Cydney. Brown. Yes, who was the only writer working on a laptop, stopped and looked up, hearing the typewriters ringing.
âI don’t even know what my keys look like,â he reflected. “It is refreshing.”
Friends Gerald Pinga and Miguel Maquiran, both students of Drexel, came inside the booth for a poem by Brown. Pinga requested the poem for Maquiran because it was Maquiran’s 21st birthday. Brown listened to the two split prompts, the last from Maquiran, who asked for “happiness.”
âOK, give me five minutes,â Brown said. Brown first wrote in a notebook, then slowly typed out a poem called âBIRTHDAYâ.
Maquiran said the experience made him remember: âWhen I was a kid I never really did poems or anything like that, but I wrote songs,â he said. . “It’s pretty cool, now that I’m 21, a full grown-up, walking past and seeing things that I used to do.”
Makonnen Kenya spotted the pop-up across the street. He came over and quickly tried to work on Writer’s Block, thinking about what to add to the community scroll. Kenya first wrote on a card with a red pen, taking a few moments to pause and sit down, then lean down again to write some more. Then he switched to typing.
âI haven’t lived in Philly for thirteen years, but it’s still my home. The city is drastically different from what I remember, but again, this is where my roots are, âhe wrote.
âEven with things like gentrification,â explained Kenya, 23, who is based in Toronto but was visiting family in town, âthe community as a whole still exists and it’s still so cool to, you. know, being able to come back and just still be a part of it.
With so many changes, the archival aspect of the West Philly community poem is important to Kenya, who lived in the neighborhood as a child.
âObviously, the community, we have so many people from different walks of life, people from different generations and things like that,â he said. “I think it’s really important to record and preserve as much history as possible so that people in the future can know how things used to be.”
From West Philly Community Poem to The Pearl, Kavanaugh plans to produce a zine.
“The ultimate idea,” the artist explained to a passer-by, “is to submit this as a neighborhood mapâ¦ As it is our poetic plan for the neighborhood.”
After the little lines of everyday poets calmed down and only a few people remained at the booth, 10-year-old Mai’Angel Dennis continued to write on the typewriter. She had something to say. His mother was inside the salon having her hair done, and Dennis was typing like she was on a mission.
âI wrote about the city, how dirty it is, and how it needs to be changed, and what you see on Kensington,â Dennis said.
âIf you keep putting dirt on the ground instead of taking care of your neighborhood, it’s going to be dirty,â she said. “People have to change this, because otherwise people could suffocate from the dirt.”