Melanie Pappadis Faranello first started Poetry on the Streets (POTS), “an interactive exhibit designed to engage pedestrians in writing spontaneous poetry,” at the Greater Hartford Art Council’s “Art on the Streets” festival. Public response to the innovative exhibition was so creatively contagious that it motivated her to keep the momentum going. In 2018, POTS received a grant from The Pollination Project in Berkeley, California, awarded solely to leaders in support of social change. From there, POTS established its mission to engage communities in creative expression, and by promoting the words from people of all walks of life, the project consequently promotes tolerance, connectedness, and finding commonalities among one another.
The Soundtrack of the City
Things move swiftly in cities. The noises of the neighborhood are the soundtracks of the lives of its tenants, a cool, consistent beat bouncing between brick structures and street signs. Between the screeching of bus brakes, the honking of car horns, and the never-ending hum of casual conversation, the lost lyrics of locals are easily muffled by the melody of the metropolis. Dangling in the distance on telephone lines and lampposts, the poetic points of view of passersby are left lingering…
Until one day, out of the blue, a vintage typewriter appeared.
Street Sonnets Composed with Care
Placed on a table on Pratt Street in the heart of downtown Hartford, the typewriter was perfectly paired with watercolor paints, a jar of jumbled words on pieces of paper, and Melanie Pappadis Faranello, the exhibit’s creator.
A fiction writer and teaching artist from Chicago, Melanie encouraged people passing by to type a poem based on the particular word they picked from the jar. Afterwards, if they choose to do so, they could paint around their poem to truly make it their own.
Fingers began to fly, and the light blue typewriter sent a tappy tune out into the avenues and alleyways of the city. From public parks, bustling bodegas, and side stores, workers and wanderers came to write the verses that had long weighed them down. Strangers suddenly had spontaneous stories to share, their imaginations itching to scratch the surface of their own creative expression. All of this possible, due to a collaborative exhibit intended to highlight the human experience.
Students Stop By To Type Their Stories
Students from the Connecticut River Academy (CTRA) at Goodwin University became familiar with Poetry on the Streets by way of a bicycle field trip and pure happenstance. As a part of an Urban Studies course at CTRA designed to promote students’ understanding of the resources and positive aspects of Hartford, history teacher Anthony Roy took his scholars on a bike ride into downtown Hartford with bicycles donated to the magnet high school. Shifting gears from the original plan, Melanie and her project were one of many artists who lined the streets that day during its debut at the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s festival. While some of the CTRA scholars roamed around the table looking on, others took a leap and started to type.
Scholar TyBri’ona J. typed about feeling like a lost teen. Baring her soul on the streets, she typed onto the piece of paper seeking direction among the disarray.
Student Monique V. reflected on the serenity in soaking up the silence that sometimes surrounds her, and she drew sunshine on the top right corner of her page.
In her poem, CTRA student Emely E. explored the definition of peace in the wake of time-stopping tragedies that demand social change.
Like his classmate TyBri’ona, Malik H. touched on the trials of being a teenager. In his poem, he told his story about making choices as a child or entering adulthood earlier than expected. And Malik didn’t stop there. He went on to write another piece about the gratitude, and even the grief, that comes with graduation day — the loss of routine learning and the uncertainty of the life that waits ahead. The wistful last line of Malik’s piece read: “wishing for a better life, wishing for something more.”
The Unexpected Sincerity of Strangers
“Some people decided to trust a stranger and take a risk,” Melanie pointed out. “I’m humbled and amazed by people’s willingness to be vulnerable and express themselves creatively. People shared things they’ve never told anyone. People wanted to leave their poems with me. They wanted to be heard.”
And on Thursday, January 16, 2020, they were.
At the Charter Oak Cultural Center, POTS held its first gallery show, displaying the poems and photographs of the extraordinary everyday people Melanie had met. The opening reception had over 100 poems on display, the works of the four Connecticut River Academy scholars included.
That evening, the lights were dim, the minds were bright, and there was a creative cadence in the air. The poems were perfectly aligned along the wall, and an intimate group of people gathered around to hear artists articulate their innermost thoughts. A microphone and speaker stood against the wall because the vulnerability in the room already spoke volumes. And it was a creative collective such as this that reminded Melanie, “in the quiet solitude of our daily lives, in times of darkness or light, I hope we remember our common humanity, and that this is what matters most.”
Is Poetry on the Streets popping-up near you? Melanie Pappadis Faranello sets up around Hartford from April to November (weather permitting) multiple times per month. You may also spot Poetry on the Streets in other cities including Brooklyn and NYC this spring.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.