Help create a St. Paul poem at your local library

This month The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library are asking residents to come out to their local library and share their thoughts about their neighborhood to help create a St. Paul poem.

Libraries across St. Paul, including Sun Ray Library on the East Side, will have artists available during the month to help community members create a stanza about their neighborhood for a larger, city-wide poem.

The series is called “Poetry in the Neighborhood.”

On April 11 at 7 p.m., the series will culminate with a reading of the resulting poem, on the East Side at Arlington Hills Community Center, 1200 Payne Ave.

“We hope that people will put themselves out there and let the poets lead them,” said Kim Horton, spokesperson for The Friends.


A city of literature

Horton said the idea for the project can be credited to East Side writer and artist Saymoukda Vongsay, and The Friends’ program director Alayne Hopkins.

Hopkins explained the two connected while working in a group that included the Minnesota Humanities Center and Saint Paul Almanac, discussing the idea of creating a UNESCO application to establish St. Paul as a City of Literature.

She said they concluded that in order for that to happen, all St. Paul residents, “from all walks of life,” needed to be involved for St. Paul to truly be such a city.

Hopkins said that while Poetry in the Neighborhood is not directly related to the UNESCO project, the idea came from their conversations.

During the summer of 2017, Vongsay created a similar project in partnership with the East Side Arts Council that was focused on the people, culture and businesses along Payne Avenue. She visited various Payne Avenue business and restaurants and worked with visitors to create poems about their Payne Avenue experience. 

The project culminated with portraits and the poems of East Siders pasted to the side of the building where the arts council is located.



A friend of Vongsay’s is also involved with this new project, May Lee-Yang, a fellow writer and East Sider. The two have worked on various things together, including a number of plays.

In 2016, Lee-Yang worked with Hmong elders on a play called “Poj Laib Laus,” or “Old Gangster Ladies,” a humorous take on the the relationship between older and younger Hmong women and their experiences. The play was performed at the East Side Freedom Library.

Lee-Yang will be leading the creative process at Sun Ray Library, 2105 Wilson St., on March 28 at 6:30 p.m.

She describes herself simply as a writer; her work includes essays, poems, nonfiction and screenplays. She’s taught theater classes at Arlington Hills Community Center before, but the city-wide poem project will be a little different. 

“What I like about poetry is that ... it can be collaborative and flexible,” Lee-Yang said, adding that she believes neighbors and communities don’t take the time to talk much anymore and instead focus on doing errands.

She said she believes the project will be a “good excuse to talk to each other,” adding that hosting it at the library gives people of all backgrounds a chance to make their voices heard.

Horton said that anyone is welcome to come work with the artists — no previous writing experience is needed.

She said they aren’t quite sure what they will do with the poem when it’s done, maybe put it on a bookmark, post it online or hang it up in the participating libraries. 

“Residents make up the heart and soul of [the community],” Horton said, adding that she hopes the project gives community members a sense of pride in St. Paul.

Poetry in the Neighborhood

Poetry in the Neighborhood workshops will take place at the following locations:

Workshop: See More Perspective
• Thursday, March 15, 6:30 p.m., 
Riverview Library, 1 East George St.

Workshop: R. Vincent Moniz, Jr.
• Monday, March 19, 6:30 p.m., 
Rondo Community Library, 46 Dale St. N.

Workshop: Saymoukda Vongsay
• Tuesday, March 27, 6:30 p.m., 
Rice Street Library, 1011 Rice St. 

Workshop: May Lee-Yang
• Wednesday, March 28, 6:30 p.m.
Sun Ray Library, 2105 Wilson Ave.

Workshop: Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria
• Wednesday, March 28, 6:30 p.m., 
Hamline Midway Library, 1558 Minnehaha Ave. W.

Poetry in the Neighborhood Reading & Performance
•Wednesday, April 11, 7 p.m., 
Arlington Hills Community Center, 1200 Payne Ave.


– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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