Downtown’s Short Order Poems public art project reveals itself beneath pedestrians’ feet

Chad Reynolds and Timothy Bradford talk about their work with Downtown Oklahoma City printing poems on sidewalks at Clarity Coffee, Monday, April 10, 2017.  (Garett Fisbeck)

Chad Reynolds and Timothy Bradford talk about their work with Downtown Oklahoma City printing poems on sidewalks at Clarity Coffee, Monday, April 10, 2017. (Garett Fisbeck)

It is no easy task to take poetry to the people, but that’s what practicing poets Timothy Bradford and Chad Reynolds set out to do with Short Order Poems, which was conceptualized in a Midtown coffee shop three years ago.

While most people turn the pages of literary fiction or choose nonfiction works, poetry still deserves attention. In fact, it deserves a reader’s undivided attention, as poetry is delicate, every pause is important and no punctuation mark is accidental.

The two poets contend that poetry, with its comments on politics, culture, the past and everyday experiences, deserves to be heard.

“We believe poetry helps people understand their world. It brings a little bit of beauty to their lives and clarity as people slow down in a world that is moving too fast,” Reynolds said. “Poets are often creative, but they often fall into normal customary patterns. We are interested in finding new ways to make poetry more accessible.”

Short Order Poems takes an unconventional route by placing poetry in unlikely places.

In 2014 and 2015, Bradford and Reynolds, along with other local poets, placed their typewriters on folding tables in the streets of Midtown during the popular H&8th Night Market.

Visitors approached the tables, and poets generated poetry on the spot on topics like the moon and grandchildren.

Those events served as the launching pad for Short Order Poems, which now holds monthly events and has aligned with the city’s most eminent fine arts organizations such as Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center and Ralph Ellison Foundation.

“It connected us with a lot of people,” Bradford said when recalling the organization’s early days at H&8th Night Market. “People began to think about poetry in different ways.”

Now, Bradford and Reynolds are at it again in an effort to bring poetry to an unlikely place and introduce the genre to a new audience.

Rain poetry

A year ago, the City of Boston and nonprofit organization Mass Poetry received national attention for their public art installation by displaying poems by well-known American and Boston poets onto various sidewalks throughout the city. The poems were only visible when sidewalks were wet, producing a surprise for people as they traveled the city.

The poems were stenciled with water-resistant paint that only appeared when hit by raindrops or splashed with water.

The installation caught the attention of Downtown Oklahoma City, Inc., the nonprofit community development and downtown management organization responsible for placemaking and public art initiatives in Bricktown, Deep Deuce, Automobile Alley, Arts District, Film Row, Central Business District, Park Plaza and Midtown districts.

Downtown OKC leaders Staci Sanger and Riley Cole reached out to Short Order Poems in hopes to replicate the Boston project with an OKC spin.

With grant funding support from the International Downtown Association and Springboard for the Arts through the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town program, the Make It Rain Poems project commenced as Bradford and Reynolds designed it with the model of Short Order Poems.

Last February, through social media, Short Order Poems asked for themes. The public submitted topics ranging from Ralph Ellison to Russell Westbrook and soggy socks to spring flowers.

Sixteen guest writers, including the state’s poet laureate Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, received three random topics with the instructions to choose one for a poem. In the spirit of Short Order Poem, guest poets had a short turnaround. In total, they produced 27 Make It Rain poems.

Alexis Orgera, Nahjah Amatullah, Brent Newsom, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Benjamin Myers, Jenny Yang Cropp, Mish, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Candace Liger, John Selvidge, Kathleen Rooney, Grant Jenkins, Victoria McArtor, Shira Erlichman, Reynolds and Bradford wrote poems for the project.

The poems were installed by Bradford and Reynolds using a biodegradable paint and stencils donated by Stephen Saak and Todd Williamson with S&S Promotions, Inc.

Catch a glimpse

This week, visitors to downtown OKC districts might get their first glimpse of poems glistening under spring raindrops. They will appear on sidewalks in front of popular restaurants, coffee and retail shops and public gathering places.

For those impatient for a downpour, wetting a sidewalk with a squirt gun or water bottle also will reveal the works.

To find locations, Downtown OKC and Short Order Poems created a public Google map, available at the project website downtownokc.com/rain-poems.

For readers who can’t get enough of the poems, Midtown’s Commonplace Books will feature a Make It Rain Poems section with published works by participating poets.

Since the paint lasts for six to eight weeks, Bradford and Reynolds plan to go back and refresh their creations this summer and fall to keep the installation going for more than six months.

During rainstorms, the poets hope to see the public with an eye to the ground, inspired to take a moment to read.

“What we do see is us doing any kind of project that helps us accomplish our mission to bring poetry to the people in unexpected ways and in unexpected places,” Reynolds said when asked what the future holds for Short Order Poems. “We will be keeping our eyes open for another project that can help us put poems where people who don’t typically read poems are.”

print headline: All wet, Downtown’s Short Order Poems public art project reveals itself beneath pedestrians’ feet just in time for the rainy season.

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