Sidewalk Chalk

Sidewalk Poetry: What it is and how to do it

Literature and public art come together to beautify the outdoors in the form of sidewalk poetry. What is it, exactly? Well, it’s pretty simple. Sidewalk poetry is poetry found along sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, or other outdoor and public or semi-public spaces. Meant to delight, encourage, inspire, or otherwise enhance a simple walk, sidewalk poetry is a great way to share great poems in an unexpected avenue.


Sidewalk poetry is usually created with chalk and a little inspiration, but some cities have made the art permanent by inscribing poems in the cement. The city of Saint Paul, Minn., has held a sidewalk poetry contest for several years. Residents submit poems up to 300 characters for a chance to have their poem stamped into the sidewalk, slowly creating what the city calls “a city-sized book of poetry.” Other cities, like Monrovia, Calif. and Cambridge, Mass., have followed suit, combining their infrastructure repair program with a public art program that engages public works departments, arts and cultural departments, and citizens of all ages and backgrounds. 


Sidewalk Poetry

Sidewalk poetry in Saint Paul, Minn.


If you want to add some art to your surroundings, don’t feel like you have to wait for your city to host a contest. Rather than setting your poems (literally) in stone, simply pick up a bucket of sidewalk chalk from the store, or—if you’re feeling crafty—learn to make your own chalk at home. Sidewalk chalk comes in various, vibrant colors, so you can get creative by emphasizing different lines, adding illustrations, and playing with block letters or other hand-lettering styles


Once you’ve got the chalk, selecting a poem is the next step. You can choose a poem of your own or write down a few lines from one of your favorite poets. With so much great poetry in the world, it can be hard to choose. You can pull an old favorite book off the shelf or find inspiration from Instagram to help you decide. 


Now, just pick a spot. While most towns and cities have no problem with the use of chalk in public spaces, you’ll want to be mindful of where you choose to place your art. Avoid surfaces that belong to private residences or businesses and stick with public spaces like parks and sidewalks. If you have any serious qualms about placement, consider what outdoor surfaces at your residence might be a good fit. Also, it should go without saying, but be mindful of your words. Since this work will be outdoors, select a poem that is kid and parent-friendly so the whole community can enjoy it. 


With chalk in-hand, a spot in mind, and a poem in your heart, you’re ready to get started. If you’re feeling spontaneous, just jump in and start writing! If you’d like to do something a bit more planned or complex, consider creating a rough draft on paper to use as a reference. You can weave beautiful colors, patterns, and doodles around the words to create an eye-catching design, or keep it simple with clean, bold letters to let the words speak for themselves. No matter what you choose, remember to have fun with the process. Sidewalk chalk is easily removed with a splash of water, so you can write, rewrite, edit, and change to your heart’s content. Enjoy beautifying your neighborhood!