Solidarity Street Poetry
We are pleased to include poetry as an important part of our SOLIDARITY STREET GALLERY, to add to the much needed conversations between visual artists, writers, and the community. Payne Avenue - and this page below - display the voices of
6 accomplished poets, selected in the context of solidarity, justice, and equity
6 emerging poets, who have written poems inspired by specific artworks in the exhibit
As you walk up and down Payne Avenue, please look for these poems, next to the artworks they belong to, or on sandwich boards out on the sidewalk.
You are invited to share your own voice!
Your are encouraged to submit your own poem, rap poem, or prose - in response to either one of the artworks in the exhibit, or one of the poems featured here, and at various locations along the Avenue. You can do this in three different ways:
You can post on social media, using the hashtag #solidaritystreetpoetry
you can send an e-mail to:
You can simply click the button below and enter your poem into the form provided
Apart from Sun Yung Shin's work, the poetry portion of the SOLIDARITY STREET GALLERY event was assembled and curated by the 6 emerging poets. They all have connections to and affection for the East Side. Some of them live there. All have taken classes sponsored by the East Side Arts Council. They are grateful for those and the wonderful teachers: Margaret Hasse, Diane Jarvenpa and Thomas R. Smith.
Spotlight Poet and Writer
신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin
Artist Statement: I consider myself a language worker and culture worker. Much violence occurs on the premises of language (patriotism, symbols of the nation & masculinities, etc.), and in my poetics I am often seeking to make that language strange, and the experience of engaging with my poems somewhat speculative, disorienting—because that is what my daily life feels like as a Korean woman in the United States. I see almost nothing of myself in this culture. Making poems is an attempt to create a language in which I can exist, momentarily, like a holographic message from another dimension alongside this one. Games and mechanisms such lotteries and black box theory speak to my existential condition as a displaced immigrant and an invisible subject-citizen. Korean properties of emptiness, animism, and shamanism influence my work, as do ideas of the sublime, the haunted, and the impure.
See Sun Yung Shin's Exhibit and Installation
Poets of Wide Renown - and Established Local Poets
Marion Gómez is a poet and teaching artist based in Minneapolis. She has been awarded grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Intermedia Arts and the Loft Literary Center. Her work has appeared in La Bloga, Mizna, Water-Stone Review, Saint Paul Almanac among others
Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) was a famous American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. His father left for Mexico when he was a baby, and he was raised by his grandmother until his teens. He moved to New York City as a young man, where he was an innovator of jazz poetry, and a leader in the Harlem Renaissance.
Danez Smith is a Black, queer, non-binary, HIV-positive writer and performer from St. Paul, MN. They are the author of the poetry collections [insert] Boy and Don't Call Us Dead: Poems, both of which have received multiple awards. Source, National Book Foundation
Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and was named the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is a Tulsa Artist Fellow.
May Lee-Yang is a writer, performer, and teacher. Her plays include The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity and Confessions of a Lazy Hmong Woman. She is a former Playwright Center McKnight Fellow, a Bush Leadership Fellow, and a co-founder of FAWK (Funny Asian Women Kollective). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota.
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Life is Fine
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.
But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!
I took the elevator
sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
and thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.
But it was High up there! It was high!
So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love—
but for livin' I was born.
Though you may hear me holler,
and you may see me cry—
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
if you gonna see me die.
Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
Mi appelido es...
Gómez: A scar left by salivating conquistadors
in search of their gilded man, summoning
the ship that carried my great-grandfather across the Atlantic;
the blood in and on the hands;
the lush palmas de Barranquilla, Columbia
I’ve seen only in pictures;
a tombstone to the language my father buried with his father
to embrace my mother’s English;
my grandmother’s empanadas and the back of her hand
slapping my own for my inability to roll
mi doble ‘r,’
a badge offering partial membership hanging below
a face that can pass among the white pines of Minnesota;
a kiss from my father before bed;
a maiden name no one will ever change.
the 17 year old
and the gay bar
this gin-heavy heaven, blessed ground to think gay & mean we.
bless the fake id & the bouncer who knew
this need to be needed, to belong, to know how
a man taste full on vodka & free of sin. i know not which god to
i look to christ, i look to every mouth on the dance floor, i order a whiskey coke, name it the blood of my new savior. he is just. he begs me to dance, to marvel men with the dash
of hips i brought, he deems my mouth in some stranger’s mouth
bless that man’s mouth, the song we sway sloppy to, the beat, the
bridge, the length
of his hand on my thigh & back & i know not which country I
i want to live on his tongue, build a home of gospel & gayety
i want to raise a city behind his teeth for all boys of choirs &
closets to refuge in.
i want my new god to look at the mecca i built him & call it
or maybe i’m just tipsy & free for the first time, willing to
worship anything i can taste.
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
How I Lost My Name
When I was born,
my father named me
Maiv Muam Nkauj Lig Lis.
He believed my siblings and I
could be kings,
if given exceptional names.
When we came to the United States
I became May Moua Gao Lee.
The INS forgot "Lig"
thinking it was the same as my last name
On our part
In first grade, my sister told me
how to spell my name
I didn't know why
In seventh grade, I was May Moua
But our principal called me May Moo
Other kids thought Moua was my last name
By ninth grade, I was just May
Though it was still too complicated to remember
Was it pronounced "My?"
When I married
People thought my first name was Maylee
My last name Yang
They still don't pay attention when I correct them
a friend said
I had the simplest name in the world
When I told her my full name
Maiv Muam Nkauj Lig Lis
that it meant Mongolia
Mem Lloyd is an artist, teacher, community gardener and occasional poet. She has a long association with
Payne Avenue and the East Side Arts Council and is delighted to be part of the Solidarity Street Festival.
Tom Odendahl grew up in Minnesota. He has been working on poetry for the last several years. Before that he taught social studies in Minneapolis Public Schools and exaggerated his youthful heroics.
Romi Slowiak is an aspiring dilletante, recovering planner, and first CEO of the East Side Arts Council. She discovered poetry through a China Garden in her neighborhood and pursues it through great teachers.
Jan Borofka is a suburban housewife and caregiver who has been writing and workshopping poetry for
years. Borofka enjoys finding humor in dark places and her poetry sometimes reflects that.
M. C. Kennedy is a retired psychology professor who has always written. What is lacking in skill is
remediated by good intentions, two good teachers and a peculiar Midwestern sense of humor.
I am brown like my beloved sisters
I am black as night
I am all colors
I am awake
I am all seeing
We will rise above despair and wickedness
We will rise above tyranny and hate
We will turn to the light
the light that surrounds us
the light that is in us
the light from above
by Desire’ Johnson
I Learn About Our Karen Neighbors
Andrea E. Johnson
First Land: Myanmar
You are a peaceful people from forests and mountains
where rivers flow with sand, with
fish to ferment, pound with chilis and peppers,
fields to till, rainbows of vegetables and rice …
but constant fear and strife
rained upon you, decades of civil war,
a genocide, your villages, fields, afire year after year
as you hid in forests until you could take no more.
Second Land: Thailand
You walked a great distance in danger,
lost many as you crossed the border,
nine refugee camps, strict as prisons,
each like fifty villages cramped into one, trapped.
Yet out of the air you breathed, you taught your children to play
the sport of cane ball, to dance the bamboo clap dance,
to speak your language, script with letters
as bright as bubbles on Water Day.
Third Land: Minnesota
In the new millennium, you came with tears,
strings tied to your wrists to protect your souls, and music ~
reedy buffalo horns, thana harp, its voice like the blues,
sonorous frog drums, kana mandolin, like a giant’s wooden spoon,
Ta-Ki mouth harp for poetry whispered in young lovers' ears …
You give us gifts, abundant as 10,000 lakes, and now in great demand ~
courtesy, hospitality, dignity, an always-helping hand.
Ta Blu. Thank you. This land is your land.
Food on the Fly
by Ku Paw
I Remember You
M. C. Kennedy
You’re the face I dreamt of,
every day on the long
winter walks to school
in my white world.
I was a thoughtful child.
In the world upheaval of 1945
we needed world peace.
I planned it, step by step.
Everyone would look
a little like everyone else.
We would wear our solidarity
on our face, on our clothes.
I dreamt your face;
a cast of India,
soupçon of France,
touch of Nigeria,
whisper of Asia,
sun of Hawaii.
You could wear a burka,
and maybe a cross.
Your eyes could be blue or brown.
Hates were different growing up,
Germany, Japan, even Italy,
we bombed them all.
One grandpa was from Germany,
hard for a little girl to figure out.
As I grew old, the hates just changed,
but I never forgot you.
Then, at 84, I saw you smile at me.
After a Picture
by Rush Merchant
We are all pieces of the puzzle
We are the old ones who went before.
We are the lights on a neighborhood corner.
We are the bridges, the struts of the bridges,
the bolts and the girders.
We are the feet on the bridge.
We are words spoken plainly.
We are ears wide open.
We are the ones who wait in silent persistence.
We are the meal shared.
We are a puzzle piecing itself together,
no two pieces alike.
We are all colors, nuances, rhythms,
shapes converging in clarity, strength,
We are Solidarity.
“Silence is Violence”
by Shayla Pedigo
For art by the same name
Honest art, hard truth, mean sometimes
you have to wrap your fists around thin threads of trust
and step off into empty space.
These brave collages in simple form
Insist - Angie’s voice -
that we smash the locks on doors, open our arms to our neighbors,
immigrants, not invaders, who bring
powerful energy, bright vision, endurance,
to rejuvenate this place.
Acknowledge - in the words of Lilly -
that false promises and injustices
subvert our dreams, crush our hopes,
and condemn our most vulnerable
Demand - Britney’s eyes -
that, arms linked, bright banners raised high,
we protect and respect expressions of love and union,
every family in its entirety,
honor each person in their natural state.
Invoke - Jamila’s vision -
the healing of a wounded Earth, purifier of all elements, water and air,
dome of nurture to living things,
the blue sanctuary for all,
for our shared wild gift of life.
Assert - expressed by Kabao -
that we find strength, great success, spiritual vigor,
our deepest, most vibrant selves
when we are connected
in community, in human contact.
These courageous and honest expressions
reveal the best of us is in our youth.
by East Side Youth
Strength of pattern
stamp of culture
Rise, defy gravity
feather the sculpture
Submit to nothing
that chafes your skin
Subvert if you must,
birth what’s within
Intrigue with shadows
of tulle and topaz
Flat hat with a veil
a cymbal…hot jazz!
Sing stories in silk
bring questions and smiles
May I touch? Oh I covet
such tactile guile
Frame soul’s soft windows
niqab, burqa, chador
Shun controversy through cover
wrapped in Islam’s law
Show much or show little,
you dress for the role
All fabric is light
to illume your soul.
by Chloe Rizzo