April showers don’t just bring May flowers. They also reveal hidden poems scattered throughout Buffalo Bayou Park.
Rain Poems is a new project from Writers In The Schools’ Bayouth Collective, a group of young writers dedicated to making artistic spaces for Houston teens. The group has installed several water-activated poems on the sidewalks of the park as a way to commemorate both April as National Poetry Month, and Houston’s notoriously moist spring. The poems, which reference Hurricane Harvey, were written by members of the Collective.
“We were trying to think of different ways to transcend the page in terms of where a poem in encountered—specifically in an academic setting, which is where young people most often encounter poetry, like a high school English class,” says Jackson Neal, Bayouth Collective member. Neal, 19, is also Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate.
The group first thought of making Snapchat filters for the project, but wanted to do something more accessible to all people. They landed on the Rain Poems idea after learning about a similar project in Boston created by the group Mass Poetry.
“They took very famous poets, like poems from Maya Angelou, and hid them throughout the city,” Neal says. “But as a collective that is dedicated to empowering the youth voices of Houston, we thought it would be interesting to do our own spin on it and actually use young people’s poems. We’re using the words of actual Houstonians and incorporating them into the geography of Houston.”
The poetry was created using a stencil and an environmentally-friendly hydrophobic solvent called NeverWet, Neal explains. When it rains, the area where the solvent was applied stays dry, creating a lighter contrast to the wet concrete. Like disappearing ink, the poems magically appear and then gradually become invisible again. Neal and his fellow poets spent about three days installing the poems earlier this month. The solvent is expected to last for a few months before wearing off.
Following Hurricane Harvey, many Houstonians have a tenuous relationship with rain. The Bayouth Collective hopes the poetry project can help transform that relationship, says Robin Reagler, executive director of WITS.
“So many of us remember that feeling of, Is the rain ever going to stop? The Rain Poems remind us that good things can come out of the rain also. It reverses our expectations and sort of heals our fears,” she says.
She adds that the project encourages Houstonians to be more participatory in their everyday environment.
“I also like the idea that the poems encourage us to look,” she says. “They say to me that poetry is everywhere. You just have to look for it.”