Poetry for Bare Feet
By Will Wlizlo
Although it evokes the senses through language, poetry typically doesn’t often stimulate the reader’s sensory organs–save some passive recognition by the eyes and, occasionally, ears. Poet Stephanie Barber, however, has found a way to craft verse that tickles your feet and delights the eyes, nose, and mind. Barber writes her poetry with grass.
Over at Urbanite, Cara Ober explains the poet’s methodology:
Barber cut stencils out of Kentucky Bluegrass sod–each letter is two feet long–and laid them into the yard at the Poor Farm, an artist residency and exhibition space in Wisconsin. The poem is too large to read from one vantage point, or even to photograph in its entirety. To read it, one has to walk on it.
“To know a poem one must live with it,” writes Barber in a breezy chapbook lecture about her lawn poetry. “One must dig their toes into its very L’s and O’s.” As an English major, I take issue with the notion that you can’t “know a poem” by simply reading it in a book. That aside, Barber’s approach to the production and dissemination of poetry rings unique. Her lawn poetry is broadcast to passersby, but delicately; instead of dying on the yellow pages of a trade paperback in Barnes & Noble, it grows and becomes a living part of the community.
For those of you further than a stone’s-throw from Eastern Wisconsin, thereby unable to dig your toes into its L’s, O’s, or for that matter, any of its other letters, here’s the text of “Lawn Poem”:
Its hooves were mouse and fire
And it was angry and into counting
Also it was starstruck
Like a complicated Mexican companion cat
Barber’s verse-turf idea reminds one–on the surface, at least–of Walt Whitman’s essential collection of American poetry, Leaves of Grass. I’ll leave you with a brief, appropriate excerpt from “Song of Myself” (lines 82-86), perhaps Whitman’s best-known poem:
I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.
Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.
Images courtesy of Stephanie Barber.
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