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Write Your Block

Mapping the city through poems, one neighborhood at a time


I’ve always been drawn to the notion of the poet as cartographer, a maker of maps.

—Frank Sherlock, Philadelphia’s 2014-2015 Poet Laureate 

What do you see when you walk out your front door? What would you like to see? What does your block mean to you? These are the questions former poet-in-chief Frank Sherlock asked of the city when he created Write Your Block as a way for Philadelphians to explore their neighborhoods via poetry, charting—and sharing—their communities through their own words. The result: A map of Philadelphia that is not rivers and parks and streets, but ideas and memories and dreams for neighborhoods through the people who know them best.

Like Simone in Mantua, in May 2015: “This place is the coldest / dampest place I’ve / ever been.” And Tiana A., in Germantown: “My block is nice, more than twice. / I see wires. What do I admire?” And Gianna, in North Philly: “Plants   people   rocks   playgrounds   wood   Robert’s mobile car / Swigs   vans   steps   sun   money trees   clouds   chips and bars / Church   leaves   grass lights   buildings   benches   lights   poles / Baby   gates   paper   pants   coats   flowers   stores   rope from a roof.”

Write Your Block was originally inspired by The City Real and Imagined (Heretical Texts/Factory School, 2010), a collaborative work from Sherlock and CAConrad, in which the two poets wandered the city, using poetry to map their path and articulate their interaction with urban space. In Sherlock’s two years as Poet Laureate, he led poetry workshops and inspired others, in Mantua and North Philly and Germantown.

Originally a project with the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, Write Your Block lives on at The Citizen. We invite you to submit your own poem about your own neighborhood, and to read the portraits of the communities around you, from the people who live there. View the printed collection of some poems from Write Your Block; some will be posted on The Citizen in the weeks to come.

You can also download a toolkit for organizing your own neighborhood workshop.

Write Your Block Poems

Write Your Block

  • Mrs. Powhattan

    Mrs. Powhattan

     

    Along our fence at the end of the row, facing

    toward the Acme parking lot, they come and

    drink.  Six or eight men, drunk all day, standing

    at nobody’s idea of attention or lounging

     

    on concrete parking barriers.  They play the dozens  

    in increasing volume and crudeness as the 40s

    decrease, and that is when our telephone rings.

    “How’s the language?” asks Mrs. Powhattan.

     

    From around the bend I watch her come, a speck

    of eighty years old and her head eye-level with a

    a man’s belly button.  She needs her cane,

    her arthritis curls her, but to me she is storming

     

    forward.  At her approach the men stand up, shift

    from foot to foot, wary and bleary.  Her words

    knife through their mumbled protests and apologies.

    “This is a decent neighborhood with children

     

    in it,” and on and on until they persuade her they

    will mind their tongues–and they do–or they stumble

    up the alley to grace another spot or, at last, they retreat

    home, fall into bed, and dream of dragons.

     

    05/12/16

  • I am

    I am from fresh air and trees swaying

    In the wind.

    I am from birds chirping their happy song.

    I am from scurrying squirrels and children

    Laughing.

    I am from cool air and sun mixing like

    The sweet silence and happy noise.

    I am from my dog pulling me along with

    Laughter all the way

    I am from the few cars turning into traffic

    Almost as fast as lightning.

    I am from Philly

    05/09/16

  • I am

    Moms grilled cheese is as soft as a pillow.

    I hear birds chirping in the trees

    Kids playing in the street as the

    Cars drive by. The sweet air smells

    Better. The cold air makes me feel

    Happy.

    05/09/16

  • I am

    I am at Linwood Park! I smell flowers.

    I am at Linwood Park! I taste gold fish.

    I am at Linwood Park! I feel chalk.

    I am at Linwood Park! I hear bees.

    I am at Linwood Park! I see the red wall &

    My secret hideout (and people playing)

    05/09/16

  • I am

    I’m from green trees with

    Leaves, from warm air and peaceful bees.

    The traffic light that changes too fast

    For many cars to pass.

    I’m from the scent of fresh brown

    Mulch and growing grass. The spring

    Air and flowers and the different plants.

    Some have great yellow blossoms with

    Strong scents, some pink ones with a

    Slight scent.

    I’m from the buzz of

    Bumble bees and blue birds covered

    In bright feathers. I can hear the

    Cheers of children playing in the park

    I’m from the warm grass and

    Sunshine. From the share bushes and

    Rough concrete. I am from soft air.

    I’m from Ardmore!

    04/21/16

  • I am

    I’m from dark chocolate smoother then sweet

    Blueberries.

    I’m from Federal donuts sweet as

    Corn.

    I’m from my mom’s clean car clean

    As my clean room

    I’m from the kids playing on the

    Sidewalk laughing like a hyena 

    04/21/16

  • I am

    I’m from a yellow door and skinny short trees.

    I’m from a quit house, with nice smelling food.

    I’m from sweet and chewy candy on a soft

    Bed.

    04/21/16

  • I am

     I’m from

    I’m from many stores, selling food and clothing

    With their doors open to welcome people

    I’m from people talking about what they’re

    Going to do that day

    I’m from food stores, with many pizzerias,

    Sandwich shops, and Starbucks

    I’m from a place where there is always

    Something fun happenings

    I’m from a smelly and great place

    Where there is the horrible

    Smell of gasoline, and great

    smell of pizza from Stella’s.

    04/21/16

  • I am

    I live in Francisville.

    Where I’m not allowed after dark

    I taste pizza

    04/21/16

  • The cold day

    Once in a town it was very cold there.

    The Coolor family had a sun named Mat.

    Mat felt cold, it was too windy. He had

    A frost bite on his leg. He felt the frost

    On his lips. It tasted very salty. The

    Smell of the hot Cocoa stand next door

    Made him feel just a bit better. He bumped

    Into a steamy hole but he helped

    Himself. Finally he went inside in his

    Warm house. The end.

    04/21/16

  • I am

    Keogh’s home

    I’m from Little lands

    Dogs barking. Stone. Flowers.

    04/21/16

  • I am

    I am from squirrels and birds climbing trees,

    From fire burning on a cold day,

    From the wind and the sun,

    From dogs big and small, doors shutting and cars moving like

    As loud as thunder on a rainy day.

    I am from neighbors and friends,

    And the best neighborhood ever!

    04/21/16

  • I am

    I’m from cracked sidewalks, landscaping lots, highway and stores. I‘m from

    Fried chicken, pine trees and beautiful flowers, from cold railing and red, rough

    Bricks. I’m from water, candy, Italian hoagies and granola. From people talking,

    To birds chirping and loud jack hammers.

    04/21/16

  • Pollo: 43rd and Chestnut, July to October, 2015 (West Philadelphia)

    by Jane-Rebecca Cannarella


    Behind the Dialysis Center 
                in the lawn – across from the Shoppin’ Bag
                my boyfriend told me he saw a chicken. Just wandering.

    It was Fourth of July
                and he had smoked a bowl
    so I thought he meant those big turkeys that come back every summer.


    You mean one of those turkeys?
    No. A chicken.


    I went to the laundromat near the Chinese food place I never go to
                and there was a rooster – his gate a clipped strut.  
    Stopping. Peck. Peck. Peck.


    Then more strides
                walking toward the back of the Restaurant School.
                Like a challenge. Like a rooster with a dare, tail feathers swinging like popular girls’          ponytails in middle school.


    We told our neighbors about him, the summer everyone sat on the stoop
                drinking Scotch from coffee cups filled with ice.


    We called him Pollo
                 a name we pulled from a comic we picked up from Locust Moon.


    Sometimes he was in the lot near the mural
                – the one that has mosaic tiles
                on the building that caught fire in 2012.


    We listened for him when he went missing.
                    Swore we heard him hiding in the bushes.
    Mourned when we thought one of the feral cats got him.


    He reappeared a day in early October.
                    running triumphantly across the seeded lawn of the same Dialysis Center.
                    His tail feathers streaming behind him.


    It was the last we saw of him.
                    Someone swore he entered the opened door to the crumbling Christ Memorial Church.
                    And Pollo made us believe in transmogrification. 

    03/02/16

  • Projects to College in North Philly

    by Ameenah Hankins


    Running for the C reminds me

    of the days when the 23 was built on

    cobblestones, pretty rocks,

    and Richard Allen.

    At the tip, the Divine Lorraine Hotel

    bore my name.

    I learned to spell it perfectly

    before I was was 4..

    I could see my alma mater outside the windows

    of Mary Channing Wister Elementary School.

    It now hosts significant legacies and space

    between the C and the 23

    which makes it awesome and

    a very special place.

    North Philadelphia!

    Renowned…

    A landmark -

    Notable, remarkable.

    All over the world.

    People call it Temple.

     

    02/26/16

  • Jasper & Venango: Summer Evening

    by Leonard Kress

    Next block a man bullhorns his Rosaries,
    Hail Mary, full of grace crackles through
    the alleyway. Drenched in their own sweet dew
    the neighbors sit on stoops, await the breeze
    that never stirs. And from the boarded store,
    huge boxes blare Break on through, as shirtless
    boys exchanging taunts without success
    slurp, then stack by the gutter cans of beer.
    The boredom grows more great along the block.
    The toxic stench from Bridesburg incinerates
    the air, now fully marbleized from pig stock-
    yards. A child’s punished cry lacerates
    the frail gardenia stem my wife just potted.
    Before I sleep I hear Pray for the Brokenhearted.

    02/25/16

  • NORTH PHILLY YEAH!

    by Angela Hankins


    ‘Know Who You Are:  A North Philly Don

    (written to inspire and uplift residents in N. Philadelphia)     

    As long as you know who you are  
    You’ll be a step ahead!

    Being you is the only path

    you really have to tread!
    Dealing with your loved ones,
    co-workers, friends or lover.
    Just be you and you’ll be sure

    to more than just get over.

    Never need you hover
    below your expectations -
    Underneath your dreams!
    Your unique self it seems
    propels imagination
    and gives you a sense of strength –

    Power like a King -

    Confidence immense –

    Be who you are!
    Baby please -
    Do not change a thing!

    You will love results of

    what being yourself can bring.
    If our roads are altered
    by some circumstance of living -
    that we cannot control or change -

    or makes us just stop giving

    Our best –
    Our honest heartfelt best

    effort to possess success.

    Know who you are!

    Just be you -

    and you will do that best!



    ‘North Philly Diva’   

    North Philly Diva!
    I’ve got my education!

    Dangerous as can be

    With Master Certification

     in dealing with issues

    I need to correct

    My Ancestors’ legacy
    Get their respect.
    North Philly Diva
    going though stuff
    that let’s a Diva know

    that her game is not enough–

    So I step it up -

    Pep it up –

    Look at me –

    I kept it up –

    My Head, My crown,

    My heart

    My mind

    My Pain around my tears

    And love
    is what my north Philly song’s made of

    That’s what North Philly’s made of!
    Divas like Me!

    North Philly Diva!

    Cool!
    Smooth!
    Smart as can be!



     ‘School House Celebration’   

     (written for students and families in N. Philadelphia to encourage improvement and positive changes: grades, attendance, being involved…).

    CHARACTER:   Little D (short for Diva) or Baby Cool  (male) - a brilliant student that wears sunglasses, has a cool book bag, excellent diction, is confident, well groomed, smooth and classy. 

    This poetry is rhythmic, feels like a song.

     Deep down inside I know I can compete

    All I’ve got to do is keep my mind off of the streets.

    Hyped, feeling educated

    Hearty, a real smarty!

    Plus it’s a new year so - Let’s have a party!

    Let’s celebrate new teachers – new classes!

    New books, new pencils and effort that passes

    Me! Excellent! Studying! Ready!

    progress noticeable and steady!

    Let’s celebrate science and reading

    Writing, math… and me leading

    My parents helping me – No TV

    Is gonna come between my education and me!

    I’m making changes – I’m a real smarty

    So educated – my school house party

    It starts with me, my parents and home

    Got some new stuff..  so Let’s get it on!

    Education!
    Obligation!

    Determination!

    Calculation!

    Cooperation!

    Motivation!

    Expectations!

    Celebration!

    This party starts with me!

    02/21/16

  • untitled (Whitman-South Philly)

    by Jasmin Romero


    Southern hospitality and sweet tea
    Lawns of real green grass and the smell of the air right before a thunderstorm

    Distant memories as flat boots pound pavement. No place to put bare feet.

    Harsh and hard accents all at midnight.

    Trash day fills the air.

    02/20/16

  • TUESDAY NIGHT DARTS AT O'JUNGS (Pennsport)

    by John Cassidy


    Hank Henry sat on his beach chair,

    parked near the street curb,

    unthreading a tie.

    Squinting, a Pall Mall stuck to his lip,

    he watched the ambulance creep by.

    “That’s the third time this month,

    that new apartment complex,

    had someone go bottom up,”

    Hank Henry thought to himself

    and took a thick swig of whiskey

    (he’d mixed with diet pepsi

    swirled in a big gulp

    he filled at the 7-11 by the bus stop

    and combined in the bathroom

    a bottle produced from his pocket

    and emptied).

    He felt stealthy.

    Hank Henry harrumphed and let his mind wander to darts.

    “In just a few hours, the B-Team championship starts.”

    02/20/16

  • 1100 Spruce Street

    by Katie Martin


    A transient block of students, revelers, patients, and healers;

    A golden path strewn by silent sentries who have stood vigil since gas lamps flickered;

    A lonely, stifling night where prostitutes and celebrators mingle while the others sleep.

    Each morning, two-wheeled urban enthusiast hoards travel west; millennial dogs in sweater vests travel east. The wafting coffee and chess through our Greenstreet (meeting place) and breakfast sandwiches at our Rana (meeting place) divide old and new, young and aged, wealthy and eager.

    Center City both discourages and invites neighbors. Know self and community but don’t look into their eyes. Have strong opinions while flying through and never staying. This block is home but temporary. Will the next see the decaying rot underneath the charade of wine bar living rooms?

    02/19/16

  • Kingsessing Avenue

    by Ernest Hilbert


    The men sift the ash of an incinerated Victorian

    For the clink of coin or cufflink,

    Some remnant in the wreckage

    One might don or exchange once more.

    Embers of dandelion

    Are dimmed as the slow breeze spreads

    Soot along the block, to porches, sills,

    Soft gray clovers of cats’ paws. 

    02/19/16

  • Run-on #5 (Northbound, Route 23 - 11th & Mifflin)

    by Angelo Colavita

    The bus stops

    shortness of

    breath control

    top panty

    hose him

    down town

    mouse.

    02/19/16

  • Heroines (Kensington Sapphic)

    by Angelo Colavita

    Come cold July, fronted bundles lack the legs

    they once had a month ago, taken in vein

    back in June - back when you could still draw some blood

    without much effort.

    The streetcorners lousy with merchants and dead

    -faced, angel-eyed, ghosts of our loved and young

    Blind for poison pin-prick needle-beetles

    crawling just beneath.

    Just beyond reach and veiled before reason

    Well into August we will carry the chill

    Below warmer suns and down darker alleys,

    slowly vanishing.

    02/19/16

  • My neighborhood/writeyourblock (Kensington)

    by  LeMyth


    my neighborhood

    my neighborhoods in transition but nonone can see it that way
    where with mundane & content or where inebriated & free
    just down the street gentrifucation procalls the
    the art and the business draw me but my pockets falt me & i go back to kensington
    my neigborhoods in transition but were to boxed in to see we cant make a move when no one chooses to see
    i just moved here & im happy to be
    but i know in 2 years this will no longer be heavy populated by spanish decent bc the people the powers can be who want it can write a check that we cant cash so displacement & desolance will be our last meal
    of our last night @ our family table
    the one where my neighbors children grown from fist to navel they now attend school and soon to will move on bc we all share time but not the power to see it wrong or right bc this battle wont have a fight
    bc we cant stand a chance my neighborhood is in his hands
    & he wants it

    02/18/16

  • Seventh and Mifflin

    by Anthony Glassman


    A half-dozen languages
    spoken all at once
    Spiked Asian hair
    in black, brown,
    blonde, purple, blue.
    Dreadlocks and braids
    trailing behind
    running teenagers.
    Children playing together
    crossing colors and countries.
    A crowded market,
    fresh fruit and meat.
    Juice and yogurt,
    cheese and candy.
    The smells of cooking
    in a panoply of styles
    from a myriad of countries
    just like the people
    walking down the street.

    02/18/16

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