Local poetry gets billboard treatment

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The drive to Springville just got  a little more interesting — not to mention cultural, meaningful and poetic.

Three consecutive billboards on State Street now feature a poem by Derek Henderson, a surprising and refreshing change from the advertisements typically lining Utah Valley streets.  Ashley Mae Christensen, a BYU grad student, organized and executed the project, and started the effort in hopes of bringing more art to the local community, specifically art that represents the community.

A crowd gathered on Saturday night to celebrate the Billboard Poetry Project. There was a procession to admire the billboards and a poetry reading in a downtown Provo park.  Christensen expressed her gratitude for the support throughout the process.

“I’ve been surprised at how many people thanked me for putting something else on those billboards,” Christensen said at the poetry reading.  “If we don’t like something, we should change it.”

This attitude reflects the bigger inspiration for this project, taking an active role in the community and helping to shape citizens’ experience in it.  Christensen first had the idea more than a year ago, driving past billboard after billboard and realizing none of them reflected her community.

“My heart felt heavy and manipulated as we whizzed past billboards flaunting liposuction, plastic surgery, chain restaurants that offer little by way of local culture and talent,”  Christensen said about the project on billboardpoetry.com.

The idea came to life through a Laycock grant from BYU, a poem from Derek Henderson and a lot of work.  Henderson, who has a doctorate from the University in Utah in poetry, spoke about his admiration for the project and the meaning behind his poem on Saturday night.

The poem features a compilation of lines from his peer’s poems in the University of Utah creative writing program.  This idea — pulling together small pieces of art from a series of individuals — signifies the larger objective behind the Billboard Poetry Project, representing the community’s capabilities.

“Things created as a community should be celebrated,” Christensen said.

Henderson reiterated this idea as he talked about the very nature of poetry.

“Poetry is something absolutely vital and absolutely shared,” Henderson said.

Alexandra Tanner, a BYU student majoring in music, attended the celebration on Saturday after driving past the billboards on Friday and inquiring further about the poem featured.

“You always look, whether it’s liposuction or ‘buy hot tubs here,’ but this was nice-looking,” Tanner said.  “Mostly I just noticed and responded because they were inspiring words that weren’t trying to sell me something.”

To attend future poetry workshops, participate in future projects or simply learn more, visit billboardpoetryproject.com.

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