Poems showing up on Columbia sidewalks when it rains? You’re not seeing things

A poem by middle schooler Jisoo Lee is part of Columbia’s “Rainworks” project.
A poem by middle schooler Jisoo Lee is part of Columbia’s “Rainworks” project. Provided by Ed Madden.

People may find themselves singing in the rain on the streets of Columbia if a person can pick the tune out of a poem.

One Columbia, the city’s public art organization, and Ed Madden, poet laureate of Columbia, have teamed up to create what they’re calling “Rain Poetry.”

With Rain Poetry, Madden solicited poems over the last year which were stenciled on sidewalks in the Vista, on Main Street, in Five Points and around USC’s campus as well as the State House. The material with which the writings were painted on the ground only shows up when wet. So when it rains, poetry shows up on the sidewalks.

“One of my goals as the city laureate is to think about poetry as a public art, and another goal is to create venues for the voices of local and young writers,” said Madden, who is also a professor of English at USC. “This does both.”

The idea came from a similar project Madden learned about in Boston. The Columbia version has one significant difference. Rain Poetry took poems by local writers.

Three of the poems selected came from middle school students Harsha Avula, Zoe Amick and Jisoo Lee who Madden worked with at the TriDistict Arts Consortium last summer.

Avula wrote:

“Rain falls

On silent streets

Reveals mysterious


Amick’s poem reads:

“Rain pours down, rhythmic sound

Lightning strikes, picks a fight

Birds take flight to the safety of nests.”

Lee’s work was a standout to Madden.

“The clouds burst open one by one

They can’t stand it anymore

The truth is too much to bear,” the poem reads.

One of the writers is Irmo High School student Rebecca Rude who wrote:

“I glance down, the mask still fixed,

a smile fastened on my face”

“I think it’s fantastic that we’re able to feature local poets and especially young poets as part of this project,” Lee Snelgrove, director of One Columbia, said.

But the poems won’t last forever. The waterproof material stays for about two months depending on foot traffic.

“I really love the ephemeral nature of this,” Madden said.

So people will have to go out into the city and try to find the poems soon. That’s the point, Madden and Snelgrove said.

“We continue to try and find projects that bring poetry and, by extension, art to where people are and for them to experience it as a regular part of their city,” Snelgrove said.

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.