10 Guerrilla Poetry Projects

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word,” Emily Dickinson once wrote. It’s with that notion in mind that writers have assembled as guerrilla poets, leaving their words on billboards, street corners, and inside books. We discovered a guerrilla poetry project earlier this week on Booooooom, featured below, and wanted to share other unexpected and unconventional poems that have popped up around the world.

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Scottish artist Robert Montgomery installs subversive poetry on billboards, stripping away the large-scale ads for his black-and-white text. Other poems are set on fire. The anonymous works about modern life offer a moment of reflection, away from the consumerist gaze.

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The Itaewon neighbored of Seoul, Korea is littered with colorful dolls. American poet Andy Knowlton creates the tiny figures from found materials he collects on the streets. Each doll is outfitted with a bottle that contains a poem. “I want to surprise people going about their daily routines,” he told website Chincha. “Also, I’ve been writing poetry for several years now and I’m always trying to figure out new ways to get people interested in poetry. These dolls are just another approach to getting the good word out on poetry.”

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New York City writer Audrey Dimola started the Compass Project in 2012. She stickers her poems around the city, releasing her work into the wild. They’re tiny signposts for eagle-eyed daydreamers.

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London-based artist Anna Garforth is inspired by guerrilla gardening groups, which is why she transformed excerpts from several Eleanor Stevens poems into mossy wall text. The green words are attached with organic materials. Garforth creates the work with the hopes that the letters will grow and spread across the wall in time.

Photo credit:  Amy Leang
Photo credit: Amy Leang

University of Michigan professor Emily P. Lawsin, specializing in Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies, has been a spoken word performance poet since 1990. Her passionate guerilla performance on a sidewalk in Detroit’s abandoned Chinatown remembered murdered Chinese-American Vincent Chin.

Photo credit: Max Nesterak
Photo credit: Max Nesterak

HOOT publishes flash fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and small press book reviews, never exceeding 150 words. The lit mag is printed on a postcard, with accompanying art, but it’s also available online. Miniature prose pops up unexpectedly from time to time.

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The Guerilla Poetics Project consists of short poems that are letterpress printed via antique press on broadsides and then smuggled into books around the world. Unsuspecting readers can register their found poems on the GPP website.

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“I love the way that language can be an object, and the way that a small, enigmatic fragment can somehow invoke something much larger in the mind,” Anthony Discenza said of his guerrilla street sign project. “Alternatively, I might describe them as a conflation of elevated modes of speech with more prosaic or banal forms — the Gothic novel mixed with the People magazine headline.”

During New Zealand’s Nelson Arts Festival in 2012, artist and designer Klaasz Breukel — in an orange jumpsuit — drove around in a van, projecting animated poems on walls.

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Online video literary magazine GuerrillaReads boasts an assortment of clips featuring poets reading their works out in the world, away from the bookstores.

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For more essential guerrilla poetry:

Philadelphia’s Poet Activist Community Extension (PACE) — which includes participation from co-founders CA Conrad and Frank Sherlock.

Portland’s Agit-Truth Collective — works can be explored in Landscapes Of Dissent: Guerrilla Poetry & Public Space.

PIPA (Poetry is Public Art) — including Brooklyn-based poet Kristin Prevallet, whose signs and slogans were “conceptual confrontations with the form/content rift that occurred during the Bush II years.” Read more about the work in Shadow Evidence Intelligence.