features

Behind the Story of the Poetry Walk

Kelly Gallagher ‘22 

Editor-in-Chief 

The pandemic has forced people to create and enjoy art largely in isolation, but Dinand Library’s Poetry Walk bridges the gap between creative spirits in the College of the Holy Cross community. The Poetry Walk, which consists of a mile-long loop around campus distinguished by over 20 student works, provides the College with an opportunity to once again safely connect through art. Community members can enjoy the Walk whether they are on campus or off, which reinforces the Walk’s message that poetry can be an essential facet of daily life for all.

To learn more about the development of the Poetry Walk, The Spire conducted an email interview with Lisa Villa ‘90, Digital Scholarship Librarian in Dinand Library. Ms. Villa revealed that the Outreach and Engagement Team of the Holy Cross Libraries first proposed the Poetry Walk in early 2020. As she stated, “The goal was to create an interactive and interdisciplinary experience that would celebrate National Poetry Month and expose Holy Cross community members to the creative and physical environment found at Holy Cross.” However, the plans were of course canceled when the College closed in March due the pandemic. 

Because there had been a lot of enthusiasm around the idea, this spring the Team decided to revisit the project, which had become even more appealing given the restrictions across campus. The Walk offers the community an outdoor recreational activity that, as Ms. Villa stated, “allows engagement with each other and with creative expression, in a socially distanced setting.” 

Photo by Kelly Gallagher 22

Preparations for the Poetry Walk began in January 2021, when the Outreach and Engagement Team proposed the project to the Director of Library Services. The Team decided to feature student work, so team members began reaching out to instructors whose coursework involves creative writing, as well as to student organizations such as The Purple. The Library began accepting student submissions in March, in order to install the Poetry Walk during April as part of the National Poetry Month celebrations. Finally, the Team designed the signage, developed a walking route, and created a virtual walk for off-campus accessibility. 

Ani Zhu ‘22 submitted her poem “A Child Says” to the Poetry Walk. The Spire asked Ani over email what inspired her poem, and she explained, “I wrote the poem in 2017, sitting in a classroom one day and heard a conversation behind me. A girl said her little sister said that going to the mall on Sunday was like seeing adults in a zoo. I recorded it and became this short poem. Poetry is to constantly observe daily life and record the sparks in it.” She loved the idea of the Poetry Walk, so she picked a short poem to make it easy for passing community members to read it. 

Kimberly Fetherston ‘22 contributed her poem “Going to the Sun” to the Walk, a work which was inspired by her longing to travel during the pandemic. She told The Spire that she learned about “loco poems,” or location poems, in a literature class, “so I decided to try and write my own poem inspired by a location. Glacier National Park is one of my favorite places I’ve had the privilege to visit, and [my poem] came from the idea that we’re loving the park to death.” She described the destruction that the Park experienced last summer. There were fewer rangers working than usual, and visitors took advantage of their scarcity in order to get too close to wild animals and travel off-trail. Kimberly described it as “agonizing” to see people mistreat the land, and wrote, “Even though Glacier is one of our National Parks and our public lands, we’re still only visitors there and need to respect the land, the plant life, the wildlife, and the people there.” 

She explained that the title of her poem is taken from Going-to-the-Sun Road, “which is the road that traverses the main corridor of the park and partially from the fact that so many people want to get up to see sunrise, which admittedly is less true at Glacier than it is at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia. The line about watching the sunrise with 500 of your closest friends came from a volunteer I talked to at Acadia about exactly the phenomenon I try to describe in the poem.” Kimberly added that, “One of the issues that I have with the way we view places like Glacier and Acadia is the idea that they are there for our recreation now and in the future [yet] a lot of times they fail to acknowledge the people that were there before settlers laid claim to them and we turned them into parks. Everytime I visit somewhere I try and learn about the Native Nations that lived and used these places and often continue to use them today.”

Ani and Kimberly both consider the Poetry Walk an important addition to campus. Ani said that the Poetry Walk “adds so much to the overall environment of the campus: besides sports banners and posters, we also have poetry. It’s for everyone on campus who passes by, not for a specific group of English students.” 

Kimberly reflected that the Walk is “a great way to show what people have been working on, in and out of class.” It’s an especially welcomed opportunity since most a lot of in-person literature events have been cancelled or moved online. Kim added that she appreciates the Walk’s online component. “My parents sent it to my entire extended family, so it’s nice that they get to see what I’m up to.” 

The Library was very intentional about establishing an online component to the Walk. They wanted community members who are spending the semester off-campus to also be able to enjoy the poetry. Ms. Villa shared that the virtual version has “has been downloaded 340 times (as of 5/4/2021) in 6 countries and 4 continents.” She also referenced a comment that Bridget Franco, Associate Professor of Spanish, shared with the Library: “I really appreciated the digital version as I haven’t been able to access campus since last year. The photos reminded me of how much I’m looking forward to coming back to the Hill in the fall.”

Ms. Villa stated that the Library hopes to keep the Poetry Walk up through September. Community members can enjoy it until then in person, or they can visit the Walk online at crossworks.holycross.edu/poetry2021. A brochure is available at crossworks.holycross.edu/poetry2021/26.

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