Sidewalk Poetry

People walk next to Molly Lynn Watt's poem, which has been imprinted in a sidewalk along Prospect Street in Cambridge.

New Poems To Be Imprinted In Cambridge Sidewalks

Announcing Winners and Runners-up of 2022 Sidewalk Poetry Contest

New poetry will be coming to Cambridge neighborhoods as five winning poems will be imprinted in city sidewalks as part of the City of Cambridge’s annual Sidewalk Poetry Contest. The chosen poems confront anti-immigrant bigotry, mull the surprises of aging, celebrate writers’ voices and creativity, observe life along our sidewalks, and call for an open-hearted tenderness that includes “the man living in the tent / On the concrete between the buildings.”

Celebrate the winners and runners-up for 2020 and 2022 and see “TRA•VERSE,” an exhibition highlighting the Sidewalk Poetry Program in Cambridge Arts’ Gallery 344 at the City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway, second floor, Cambridge, on Monday, July 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. (rain date July 25).

Winners:
Jane Attanucci
K. Householder
Jillian Murphy
Aelen Unan
Rachel Weinstein

Runners-up:
Amy Bebergal
Judy Bright
Brianna Davis
Nancy Messom
Chloe Viner

Read the winning poems here.

Launched in 2015, Sidewalk Poetry invites Cambridge residents of all ages to submit their poetry for a chance to get their words stamped in concrete as part of the City’s sidewalk repair program. At the core of the Sidewalk Poetry program is access and opportunity—providing opportunities for more people to freely experience poetry and more writers to share their work. Find poems throughout the city via our Sidewalk Poetry Map. The Sidewalk Poetry Contest is a collaborative project of the Department of Public Works, Cambridge Arts, and the Cambridge Public Library.


Our “TRA•VERSE” exhibition, designed by Rick Rawlins, with video by Carl Tremblay, was installed in Gallery 344 in early March 2020 and was designed to celebrate five years of the Cambridge Sidewalk Poetry Program. But closures to stem the spread of covid shut the gallery down the day after the exhibition debuted. The exhibition has been extended through the end of August 2022, and it’s finally time to give it a celebration. The reception will take place inside and outside—view the exhibition inside and gather and hear poetry outside on the Annex plaza along Inman Street. Sidewalk Poetry winners and runners-up from 2020 and 2022 are invited to read their poems, facilitated by Peter Payack and Jean Dany Joachim, starting at 6:30 p.m. Guests will also be able to choose one of the 20 poems from 2020 and 2022 and have it stamped onto a drink coaster to take home. The stamping process will be inkless and mimic the sidewalk stamping process. An ice cream truck will be next to the plaza offering treats.

For more information on the exhibition, go to: https://www.cambridgema.gov/arts/publicart/gallery344

The 2022 Sidewalk Poetry winners—plus five runners-up—were chosen in March from 252 entries contributed this spring by Cambridge residents from across the city. Entries were reviewed by a selection committee, assembled with the help of a public call for jurors—the first time we’ve issued a public call for jurors for this program. Its members included Betsy Groban, Madeleine Holzer, Jean Dany Joachim, Dhonyale Jones, Daisy Lu, Peter Payack, Jen Letourneau of the Department of Public Works, Drew Griffin from the Cambridge Public Library, and Hilary Zelson and Lillian Hsu from Cambridge Arts.



2022 Sidewalk Poetry Contest. Five winning poems will be imprinted in Cambridge sidewalks. Cambridge residents of any age are invited to submit one poem of their own work to the city's Sidewalk Poetry Contest. Submit: Cambridgema.gov/sidewalkpoetry


TRA•VERSE, an exhibition celebrating five years of the Cambridge Sidewalk Poetry Program, runs from March 16, 2020, through Aug. 31, 2022, at Cambridge Arts Gallery 344, 344 Broadway, second floor, Cambridge. cambridgeartscouncil.org/gallery344

The Sidewalk Poetry Program is a partnership of the Department of Public Works, Cambridge Arts, and the Cambridge Public Library.


Sidewalk Poetry map.

Find Sidewalk Poetry with our Online Map

Use one online map to find Sidewalk Poetry all over Cambridge


About Sidewalk Poetry

Sidewalk Poetry combines a basic infrastructure repair program with the imbedded poetic creations of residents, building a collective creation and sustainable program generated by a collaboration of citizens with government. The program launched in 2015 with the first annual Sidewalk Poetry Contest and has continued yearly since.

Every March, residents of any age are invited to submit poetry for the chance to get their words stamped in concrete as part of the sidewalk repair program. The poetry submissions must be a maximum of 10 lines, 40 characters per line including spaces, and 250 characters overall including spaces and punctuation. Each year an average of 150 poems are submitted from people ages 3-95. Entries are then reviewed anonymously by a selection committee composed of past Cambridge Poets Populists, students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, and representatives from Cambridge Public Works, Cambridge Public Library, and Cambridge Arts. Five winners are selected each year and stamped throughout the City.

To date, 21 poems have been stamped in Cambridge sidewalks. Sidewalk Poetry provides opportunities for meaningful cultural exchange, adds a sense of playfulness to the City, and makes poetry more visible by bringing it into public spaces. Sidewalk Poetry is a collaborative project of the Department of Public Works, Cambridge Arts, and the Cambridge Public Library.

Program Development

The program originated when a resident called our Department of Public Works (DPW) asking if we could do a sidewalk poetry program after she heard about one in St. Paul, MN. DPW contacted the City’s Director of Public Art, Lillian Hsu, who had seen the project in person and suggested an internal meeting to discuss feasibility.

Agreeing that a Sidewalk Poetry Program would be great for Cambridge, representatives from DPW, Cambridge Arts, and the Cambridge Public Library (CPL) met to plan the inaugural Sidewalk Poetry program. The team included the resident who brought the request to the City. In April 2015 we launched the first City-wide poetry contest. We identified a fabricator for the stamps needed to imprint the poem into wet concrete. We had one stamp fabricated as a prototype and did a test, allowing us to witness the stamping process executed by the sidewalk contractor and understand the installation variables.

We used internal design and printing capability for posters and flyers and set up a collaborative outreach plan and formed a selection committee which conducted a blind review of 300 poems submitted by residents between the ages of 4 and 95. The Committee convened and selected 5 winners and 5 runners-up. Cambridge Arts and DPW worked together to identify the first 5 sidewalk locations.

A scrim featuring text from Cambridge Arts' Sidewalk Poetry program wraps a construction site around Lafayette Square and Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, April 2019.

To celebrate five years of Sidewalk Poetry, Cambridge Arts worked with designer Rick Rawlins and his Community Design students at Lesley Art and Design to print entries from each year across a giant scrim that wraps a construction site around Lafayette Square and Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square in 2019.

Why we love Sidewalk Poetry!

In many municipal governments cross-departmental projects that are truly collaborative are unusual. It is also unusual to have departments other than an arts or cultural department engaging actively in building, planning, and installing art projects. Additionally, there are not many projects that engage creative participation of citizens of all ages and backgrounds and locate those contributions in a streetscape for anyone to enjoy. To visitors, the sidewalk poems are voices of citizens of a specific locale - a diversity of privately composed artistic expressions in a most public urban space. The program also has the potential to grow into a significant anthology of community poetry enlivening sidewalks, throughout all neighborhoods, to be enjoyed any day of the year.

Creating good public spaces that engage citizens in meaningful and positive ways and that offer opportunities for social and cultural exchange is our ongoing mission and a complex task. Sidewalk Poetry contributes to the international movement to build more playful cities. More and more people are moving into cities; open space is shrinking. The arts are often a key contributor to the unique enhancements that prompt delight, inspiration, and well-being among citizens passing through dense public space.

While poetry has been an important part of civilization throughout history, it is relegated to a minor area of our cultural attention and struggles to reach a wide audience. In conversation with the individuals whose poems were chosen it became clear that writing poetry plays a role in many people’s lives but is not often visible in the public realm. Sidewalk Poetry changes that.

Application for the 2019 Sidewalk Poetry Contest will be available in early 2019! Click here for more information on how to apply.