The last place you would ever expect to see poetry is where you might find it in Sydney, Australia — on the sides of street-sweepers.
As part of the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival, 11 “street-cleansing trucks,” as the Aussies call them, have been embossed with 19 poems written by poetry legends such as W.B. Yeats, John Berryman and Judith Wright.
Each poem is six-and-a-half-feet wide and three-and-a-half-feet high, with the intent of being visible to any passerby. According to the festival website, the ultimate goal of this unusual display of poetry is to bring “a bit of lyricism to the everyday.”
Jessy Randall, archivist and curator of special collections at the Colorado College Tutt Library, is among the poets featured on the cleaning trucks. The selected poem is entitled “Why I Had Children” and is part of her new book, “Injecting Dreams into Cows.”
Randall still doesn’t know how Luke Davies, poetry curator for the festival, discovered her work. “It’s a mystery, but a wonderful mystery,” she says.
When Randall first got the request for permission via e-mail, she didn’t know what to make of it. As expected of a librarian, Randall conducted research on the Sydney Writers’ Festival and was thrilled when she uncovered the details. “I’m glad the trucks don’t actually smell like garbage," she jokes. "I wouldn’t want my poem to go around stinking up the streets."
Randall’s love for poetry first began when she was an undergrad student at Columbia University. Her poetry professor, Kenneth Koch, was a “wonderful, encouraging force” that inspired her to write. Koch, a member of the New York School of Poetry, “made you feel like you already were a poet and that you didn’t have to prove you were smart…it was nice that I didn’t have to show off or prove myself,” says Randall.
Randall’s children, 12-year-old Will and nine-year-old Celia, inspire many of her poems. “Why I Had Children,” however, is not what you might expect.
“I never thought I would have kids, and when I did, it was very humbling and hard. I was wrong about everything I had thought motherhood would be,” says Randall, adding jokingly: “Surely I was reading too many books.
Randall used to write novels of fiction before having children and finding that she could no longer devote enough time to it.
“Poems became sort of a solace, something that I could do in a short amount of time when the kids were having a nap,” she says. “Now they’re older and they don’t need me as much as they used to. I’ve gotten comfortable with poetry in a way that I didn’t with fiction. It’s something you can do anytime.”
The reaction to Randall’s new book of poems has been positive, but she has always found it difficult to consider herself a successful writer.
“When a book comes out, there’s no one moment when it’s like, ‘Aha! I am finally a real writer!’ It doesn’t work like that as much as I expected it to,” says Randall. “This thing with the truck helped me go, ‘Wow, if someone in Australia, who is not my friend or relative, is going to read my poem, then maybe I am a real writer.’”