Rain Poems: A Bayouth Collective Project
By: Jackson Neal
The National Endowment for the Arts found in 2017 that poetry readership among 18-24-year-olds has more than doubled since 2013, jumping from 8.2% to 17.5%. This makes young adults the largest group of poetry readers in the United States. Young people aren’t just reading poetry though. We’re writing it, and organizing spaces for poetry and arts to exist. Three young storytellers, Joyane Eriom, Mackenzie Cook, and I make up this year’s Bayouth Collective, a program of Writers In The Schools that equips young people with the tools to make space for other young writers in their communities. Through workshops, open mics, public art installations, zine-making, performances, and interviews, the three of us spent a year carving out places for other young storytellers in Houston to thrive.
Being poets, it’s easy for us to get lost in the world of text. Academic language, institutions, and public education can make poetry a difficult medium to approach, and can keep the community as a whole out of its realm. Joyane, Mackenzie and I talked about this at length in one of our Bayouth Collective meetings. We were thinking about how poems can exist in the “real” world, in Houston. What does it mean to be a poet anyway? Our vibrant people, our loved ones and community, the way we play in the sun- these things feel like poetry too. They should be honored and celebrated just like any other art.
These were the ideas behind rain poems. The Bayouth Collective’s first public installation, rain poems was a series of poems painted on the sidewalks of Buffalo Bayou Park with invisible ink. The only way to see the poems was to splash them with water. What we loved about this project was that it was meant for all Houstonians. Poetry was no longer a secluded medium harbored by gatekeeping institutions but became a facet of the city’s geography. The poems we installed were a part of the ground as if they bubbled up from the soil. The secret ink feature was just another fun way to see people physically play with a poem. I think that’s what makes the Bayouth Collective so great, our ability to play. In poems and in projects we find a way to take the materials we’re handed and make something joyous.
‘rain poems’ is a Writers in the Schools and Buffalo Bayou Partnership project.