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.