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'Conquerors of Concrete' celebrate completion of poetry project

September 5, 2018
<p>Don Easlick and Ralph Hansel of Endless Engravings in Charlotte, Michigan, etch a contest-winning poem into a Lansing sidewalk. <strong>Photo courtesy of Ruelaine Stokes.</strong></p>

Don Easlick and Ralph Hansel of Endless Engravings in Charlotte, Michigan, etch a contest-winning poem into a Lansing sidewalk. Photo courtesy of Ruelaine Stokes.

The Lansing Sidewalk Poetry Competition came full circle at the end of August. 

Winners of the competition, leaders of the project and members of the community saw the poetry contest become a literal concrete reality. 

Seven of the winner’s poems are now etched in sidewalks and one on acrylic in four areas of the city of Lansing. For instance, individuals can now read about ties to home near the Brenke Fish Ladder or a love of baseball in front of the Cooley Law School Stadium.

Contest winner and MSU student Grace Carras' poem, written with gratitude for brave poets, can be found in front of Blue Owl Coffee.  

The purpose of the project was to bring poetry and public art to the neighborhoods of Lansing.

“It’s taken judges to make the tough decisions, it’s taken the hard work and expertise of Endless Engravings of Charlotte, the support and enthusiasm from The Poetry Room, the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU, The Lansing Poetry Club, and most especially, bringing this project to life has taken nine months of creative imagination, endless hours of perseverance and hard work by our Lansing Poet Laureate Dennis Hinrichsen,” Ruelaine Stokes, president of the Lansing Poetry Club, said.    

Hinrichsen expressed his gratitude for the mayor of Lansing, the poetry community and acknowledged the project as just the beginning of implementing other kinds of poetry and arts projects in Lansing. 

Both Stokes and Hinrichsen followed the poems from submission to selection to proofreading and engraving them into the sidewalks.

Deborah Mikula, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, talked about the importance of promoting art in Lansing. She said she was excited by the completion of the project.

“We believe that Lansing is defined by its arts and cultural sector, our artists and arts organizations and the proud history of creative expression. They are a crucial part of our identity, our vitality and our economic growth,” Mikula said. “I’m a believer that place is made special by utilizing the arts as a driving force for change.”

For some of the contest winners, composing poetry allowed them to share a memory of a place or capture the energy of a street they were familiar with. For contest winner Cruz Villarreal, his poem “Mi Pueblo” was about preserving his heritage. 

“This poem is in Old Town because, I decided to write it because I didn’t want a part of Old Town to disappear," Villarreal said. "That is the Latino heritage. So much happened. That is where anything that was activist that had to do with Latinos was born there,” 

“Mi Pueblo” can be found near the Brenke Fish Ladder in Old Town.

The City of Lansing, along with Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, announced the new First Impressions Program in August 2017.  This program was created to offer funding in support of Lansing creatives and arts organizations.

In November 2017, the Lansing Poetry Club received the First Impressions Placemaking Grant. With this support from the Lansing Economic Development Corporation and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, a writing contest was created.

Through poetry, people were invited to tell stories of their connections and experiences with the various parts of Lansing. 

Submissions were accepted from March to May 2018, and judging of them occurred throughout June. 

The etching project was completed by the end of August in Old Town, REO Town, the Eastside and the Stadium District.

Edit: A typo in the headline was fixed after publication.

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