The poet of Locke Street South

By Elisha Stam

In September, I kept bumping my stroller into pylons that would NOT move on Locke St. South. What possible Public Works project could this be, right in the middle of “my” sidewalk? Why was the sidewalk marked, cut, and then covered by pylons?

One day, the pylons were gone. Uncovered was a historical-looking, bronze plaque saying: “Begin here.” And a few steps later another plaque said “here,” and continued “here/ each step/ a green light/ a deep breath/ a thousand mile journey.” Obviously this was not the doings of the Public Works department. After a little investigation, I found it was a commission by the city’s Art in Public Places department. It is poetry and art along Locke Street South.

This piece, Concrete Poetry, is the work of local artist Simon Frank. It consists of bronze plaques, cut into the sidewalk, flush, and embedded into the surrounding concrete. Each plaque has a line from a poem by Frank that runs in a loop down both sides of Locke St. South.

I was curious, so I contacted Simon Frank to learn more, and he was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions.

Simon Frank has spent his artistic career exploring the interaction between culture and our natural environment. His words string us along Locke Street, connecting the motions of walking and reflection. We can see the vibrant urban culture as people pass each other, or talk over coffee at one of many establishments. Similarly, the natural surroundings of Locke Street are striking, the road seems to pour from the escarpment above it, and flow into the dips and dives of the natural geography.

This becomes clear in the lovely lyrics of the poem itself, “Like water that flows from escarpment rock/ to invisible pools,” or “to walk the streets/ of the city/ is to love it.” The natural world is not just the trees or the escarpment, but everything that surrounds us – from the wires of the telephone poles to the sidewalk. It all originates from the earth.

The poem written by Frank is meant to act as a guidebook along this nature trail. They lead our thoughts into questions of existence and context. “Where do I come from/ Where am I now/ Where am I going/ A map/ of my thoughts/ move fast/ like horses around a track.” The words are profound yet accessible.

Frank is a resident of Hamilton, and lives in this city because it is a healthy and creative space for artists to live. I feel the same. City commissions like this make our public spaces conducive to reflection and growth.

Concrete Poetry feels like a labyrinth. I’m referring to the medieval maze-like patterns that monks followed for spiritual reflection and meditation (not the creepy David Bowie kind). Experience this artwork along Locke Street South, feel the cool fall wind, the crisp drama of the sky, and read the words of Frank’s Concrete Poetry. I promise you it will enlighten your walk and encourage some thoughtful ambling.

ELISHA STAM is a stay at home progeny wrangler, impulsive writer, and ravenous reader. She lives downtown Hamilton. You can read more of her reviews at elishastam.wordpress.com.

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