Lately, the graffiti in my neighborhood has been getting very positive. I find that each day on another block I’m getting bombarded more and more with messages of Magic and Think of the Future. On good days I find it practically overwhelming how lovely it is, on bad days I take offense. But either way it reminds me of how many of us feel like we must write things down and then share them with other people. (Yes, I know there are many legal implications, and I’m not encouraging graffiti. I might add to that however, that some of my favorite artists started out making street art including Basquiat. And some of my favorite artists are still making street art, such as Shepard Fairy.) I like the urgency of it, the immediacy of having to write on the wall.

In another lifetime, I might have done that. Coming from a culture that is very proud of murals and can take “street art” to a new level of “we’re going to paint this whole street until it is transformed to beauty,” writing words real large on wall makes utter sense to me. So, here’s my question: Why isn’t there more of it? And I don’t mean one word or another, I mean, whole poems? I remember that Albuquerque had quite a few poems up there on buildings, and a few in San Francisco. It seems like something that makes sense in our wildly expressive culture. Just a question. These are just phrases and words, but really, wouldn't a whole stanza be nice? If you see any good ones out there, let me know. I like keeping track of those midnight writers that could help keep poetry in the public eye.

Originally Published: April 22nd, 2008

Ada Limón is the author of Lucky Wreck (2006), This Big Fake World (2006), Sharks in the Rivers (2010), and Bright Dead Things (2015), a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award. She earned an MFA from New York University, and is the recipient of...

  1. April 23, 2008

    Have you rented Style Wars? Pretty fascinating.

  2. April 23, 2008

    I have. I LOVE it.

  3. April 26, 2008

    Ada, the graffiti I see on a daily basis is in the subway, on the ads posted on the walls. On a good day I don't see it at all. On other days, I notice the graffiti is almost always the defacement of women, even though the ads themselves already do half the defacement in stripping the women half-naked. Do you see this too? Graffiti has a reputation of edgy for some reason, but is most often anything but, and I wish I didn't have to look at the ads or the graffiti on my way to work everyday.

  4. May 16, 2008

    Yes, I do see that sort of graffiti all the time and yes it is awful. That's why it's so nice to see some positive stuff out there. I keep thinking that maybe it's changing, but perhaps I'm stupidly optimistic. I hope the writing all the wall that you see gets better real soon.