T.S. Eliot once observed that “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” This is a sentiment that “guerrilla” poets embrace. Guerrilla tactics, whether in war or in art, often rely on hit-and-run assaults, leaving the subjects of their surprise attacks a bit dazed and hopefully more aware.
This week, the website Flavorpill (by way of booooooom.com) published a variety of guerrilla poetry projects that are sneaking poetry into the lives of the largely unsuspecting public. Here are ten of the best:
1. Scottish artist Robert Montgomery installs subversive poetry on billboards, stripping away the large-scale ads for his black-and-white text. Other poems are set on fire. The anonymous works about modern life offer a moment of reflection, away from the consumerist gaze.
2. The Itaewon neighbored of Seoul, Korea is littered with colorful dolls. American poet Andy Knowlton creates the tiny figures from found materials he collects on the streets. Each doll is outfitted with a bottle that contains a poem. “I want to surprise people going about their daily routines,” he told website Chincha. “Also, I’ve been writing poetry for several years now and I’m always trying to figure out new ways to get people interested in poetry. These dolls are just another approach to getting the good word out on poetry.”
3. New York City writer Audrey Dimola started the Compass Project in 2012. She stickers her poems around the city, releasing her work into the wild. They’re tiny signposts for eagle-eyed daydreamers.
4. London-based artist Anna Garforth is inspired by guerrilla gardening groups, which is why she transformed excerpts from several Eleanor Stevens poems into mossy wall text. The green words are attached with organic materials. Garforth creates the work with the hopes that the letters will grow and spread across the wall in time.
(Photo credit: Amy Leang)
5. University of Michigan professor Emily P. Lawsin, specializing in Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies, has been a spoken word performance poet since 1990. Her passionate guerilla performance on a sidewalk in Detroit’s abandoned Chinatown remembered murdered Chinese-American Vincent Chin.
(Photo credit: Max Nesterak)
6. HOOT publishes flash fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and small press book reviews, never exceeding 150 words. The lit mag is printed on a postcard, with accompanying art, but it’s also available online. Miniature prose pops up unexpectedly from time to time.
7. The Guerilla Poetics Project consists of short poems that are letterpress printed via antique press on broadsides and then smuggled into books around the world. Unsuspecting readers can register their found poems on the GPP website.
8. “I love the way that language can be an object, and the way that a small, enigmatic fragment can somehow invoke something much larger in the mind,” Anthony Discenza said of his guerrilla street sign project. “Alternatively, I might describe them as a conflation of elevated modes of speech with more prosaic or banal forms — the Gothic novel mixed with the People magazine headline.”
9. During New Zealand’s Nelson Arts Festival in 2012, artist and designer Klaasz Breukel — in an orange jumpsuit — drove around in a van, projecting animated poems on walls.
10. Online video literary magazine GuerrillaReads boasts an assortment of clips featuring poets reading their works out in the world, away from the bookstores.