Similar to Poems on the Underground, a program initiated on London’s Tube trains in 1986, which renewed huge interest in poetry and cut across demographic boundaries, Poetry Illuminated displays poems in outdoor locations where people will happen upon them inadvertently (in this case public sidewalks) without hype or a social media campaign.

The Library started the project in winter 2019, using two inexpensive projectors to beam poetry on downtown sidewalk squares at night, changing locations every week. A third, slightly more powerful projector was used in a stationary location to project poems outside the Library’s front entrance. In 2020, the Library expanded to four locations downtown in addition to projecting in front of the Library.

The surprising and ephemeral encounters cut across demographic boundaries and highlighted not only highly regarded poets, but the poetry of local, underrepresented and marginalized populations. It brought people out at night to see the latest poetry selections and started impromptu conversations about the art form. The goal of Poetry Illuminated has been to bring more attention to an often-under-appreciated art form by making it something less ivory tower and more every day. We hoped these sidewalk encounters would tap into our natural joy in language, in unusual twists of expression and thought. The enthusiastic response from the public indicates that we have been successful.

The project has also received national recognition. The Mill Valley Library is the recipient of the 2020 Innovation of the Year Award from the Public Library Association.

Look for the next installation in early 2021.

If you have questions or comments, we would love to hear from you. Email abrenner@cityofmillvalley.org

Thank you to the Smart Family Foundation for supporting this project.