Poet Laureate's blog: August 2018

August 2018 Poetry: Poetry to the People!
A growing trend in the world of poetry is a phenomenon that places poetry–both written and spoken–in the public sphere. Cross-genre artists have been putting poetry in front of people in a range of visual and auditory formats all over the world. From Robert Montgomery’s spectacular works that include poems installed on billboards and words set on fire to Collingwood’s Planted Poetry installations in the Community Garden on Hurontario Street and the Library’s Garden Project on Simcoe Street, words are popping up in unconventional locations everywhere.
As your Poet Laurate, I am committed to putting poetry “out there” into the public realm and into the public discourse. For too long, people have been given the impression that poetry is something “highfalutin’” that belongs in a library or textbook. But poetry is infused in our culture in way we often don’t recognize: songs, TV commercials, inspirational posters and Facebook posts. 
I want to make poetry explicit, and like Montgomery, I’m interested in the idea that “mythology is essentially a type of speech, and that speech defines a culture.” I believe that poetry can define and refine the dominant languages we have in today’s culture: advertising and news media on the larger scale and social media and texting on the personal.
This month, we’re initiating a new venture that not only brings poetry to the people, it gives people the chance to discover that they can be poets themselves. During Sidelaunch Days, we’ll be launching The Poetry Booth, a “pop-up” literary installation placed at the foot of North Pine Street. Passersby will be invited to join in a poetic exchange that exists in both real time and on-line. Our goal is to encourage, capture and preserve the poetic life of Collingwood while providing a fun and interactive means for the public–residents and visitors alike–to engage with the written word. 
This booth is outfitted with a vintage typewriter-style keyboard called a Qwerkywriter, which makes a satisfying clattering sound reminiscent of the old-style typewriters that some of us remember. The keyboard is connected via Bluetooth to a tablet, enabling every keystroke to be collected and stored. Once reviewed by The Poetry Booth team at Collingwood’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Department, the output will be posted online at www.CollingWord.ca to be read, shared and commented upon. 
While each contribution to The Poetry Booth installation can be its own distinct poem, we’re hoping that participants will also be influenced by what was written before them on the tablet.  By using a new form of public dialogue, The Poetry Booth hopes to capture impressions of Collingwood–those gathered by the five senses (sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile elements) as well as those that spring from memories and recollections, current thoughts and feelings and sensed possibilities for the future.
Collingwood’s Poetry Booth is based loosely on The Typewriter Project, a program of The Poetry Society of New York. That initiative in turn was largely inspired by Exquisite Corpse, a surrealist writing game in which several authors contribute to one poem. We hope our installation furthers the genre of interactive public poetry.
If you’re around during Sidelaunch Days, come on down to The Poetry Booth and see what impressions, thoughts, feelings and ideas show up for you. Read what others have written, use our prompts for inspiration and then let your fingers do the talking. We can’t wait to see what you have to say! While you’re there, add your input to the adjacent Writing the Wave installation on the hoarding facing the harbour.
If you’re reading this post after August 12th, the Writing the Wave installation will be available for viewing until such time as the hoarding comes down. As for The Poetry Booth, check out this website’s Poetry Corner for submissions generated by the project, and let us know when and where you think The Poetry Booth should show up next. 
We’d love for The Poetry Booth to become a member of the Collingwood community, one that can connect us though the power of the word. As Montgomery says, the goal of true art is “to communicate our innermost feelings to strangers.” And by doing so, we and they become less strange to one another.