Two Clocks on the Same Street

for Mayor Steve Benjamin’s 10th State of the City address
29 January 2020

There is never only one clock.
Even here, there are two, and both
must be wound by hand since time isn’t
just the turn of sun or season or
the binary beat of your watch but
someone’s hand long ago turning
a key, a crank, so that everybody got
to work and trains mostly ran on time.

There is never only one clock.
Even here, there are two, and both
have four faces, as if the tempo of Main
Street changes from one block to another,
as if those going north toward city hall
see time differently from those headed
south to the statehouse, where stories
congeal into marble, even when
they’re not quite true. It depends
on where you stand. Whether you are
in front of the jewelry store or
the bank, the art museum or the coffee
shop, the hotel or the dorm, the Brazilian
steakhouse where the attendant is parking
your car, or the water department, where
you’re standing in line to pay your bill.
The clock of someone waiting at a bus
stop is different from the clock of a man
driving a car, which is different from
the clock running out at the end
of a game. The coffee shop is in one
time zone, the hospital another, and they
are only blocks from each other.

There is never only one clock.
There is the clock on the wall, the clock
on your wrist, and all the clocks embedded
in our flesh. There is the clock of the river,
which measures its banks, and the clock
of pollen, which slows us all down
until the rains wash the air. There is
the clock of stoplights, the clock of school
buses. There is the sun clock and the moon
clock, the circulations of feral cats,
the visitations of migrating birds, the orb
spiders hanging golden clocks in autumn
air, and the strange and beautiful clock
of fireflies synchronizing themselves with one
another. And it is not always clear
how these synch with the clock of council
meetings or the replacement of street lights
or parking meters or artwork at the airport.

There are two clocks on the same street.
Time is the circle of the sun over
the river, seeing the same things again
but in a slightly different light, and time
is also the wavy line of the river
beneath the sun, always moving on.

January is a clock with two faces
facing opposite ways. One hand
waves a flag of corn and cotton, as if
here we think we’re still there, in a past
that was small and unfair, where justice
might have been the queen of virtues, but
someone kept her blindfolded. The other
hand unfurls something like a wing,
a wave, a page about to be turned
at last. And a decade is just another
way to say the train depot is not
a depot, the post office is no longer
a post office, the park was something else,
and a bank has slapped its logo over
the shoulder of the statehouse. A decade is
a way to draw a dark line through all
the little changes, not a clock but
the shadow of a bridge over the ripples
of the river, to say look at what all
has happened between there and here.

PRISMA Emergency Care Guide

Emergency Care can be a disorienting experience. Things may happen very quickly, or you may find yourself waiting and unsure. In an attempt to provide information and reassurance for those who find themselves in Emergency Care, Prisma Health has released a helpful trifold guide. On the back, there is a poem by Ed Madden, the poet laureate of Columbia, South Carolina.

Launched at Prisma Health’s Richland Hospital in Columbia on July 17, the guides are now being distributed in Emergency Care departments in Prisma Health hospitals in Columbia and surrounding areas.

The poem is the first project of a Prisma Health poetry team, an initiative first imagined by Alexandra Toney with assistance from Dawn Hill, an organization development consultant for Prisma Health. Toney was a student in Madden’s fall 2018 Creative Writing and Community class at the University of South Carolina. For that class, she led a group project placing poems of hope in hospital waiting rooms. Impressed with that work, Hill invited her to help with the guide and with an ongoing poetry inititative for the hospital system. Toney invited Madden to write a poem for the guide.

To write the poem, Madden said that he thought about his own experiences with family in hospitals. “You feel very isolated,” he said of emergency care. He said that he wanted to write a short reflection, “a short little prayer-like poem about being in that space and that time.” Instead of isolation, he explained, he was “thinking about everyone in that room as part of one community.” It is “a space within which all these very different people are gathered, but really all for one common goal, which is to heal someone.”

The untitled poem reads:

for the lights, the charts
for hands and hearts

for those who heal
for those who are healed

for the time it takes

for those who listen
and those who watch

for those who care
for those we care for

for all those here

“The overall goal,” Toney added, “is to offer comfort to whoever needs it.”

The Emergency Care guide is the first project approved by the system’s new Patient and Family Advisory Council, which works to ensure that patient and family perspectives are included.

See this video for insight into both Toney’s healthcare poetry project and Madden’s poem.

COMPOSED: a hospital poetry project

Call for poems from South Carolina poets!


Many of us have taken a moment to collect ourselves before visiting someone in the hospital. We stop and wash our faces, look in the mirror. compose ourselves. Using this moment as the inspiration for our next Prisma Health poetry project, we are looking for poems that fit that moment. We want to use local voices about health, healing, comfort, and courage in spaces where they can make a difference.


Poems must be short (no longer than 12 lines).


The deadline for submissions is Monday, Sept. 16.
Send poems to poetlaureate@onecolumbiasc.com.

Columbia Poet Laureate Ed Madden Receives Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship

New York, NY (April 24, 2019)— The Academy of American Poets is pleased to announce that Ed Madden, the Poet Laureate of Columbia, South Carolina, has been named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow and will receive a $50,000 award in recognition of their literary merit and to support civic programs. Ed Madden is one of thirteen state or local Poets Laureate nationwide to be honored.

This new award, made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and announced by the New York Times, is in keeping with this spring’s national poetry programming theme of Poetry & Democracy offered by the Poetry Coalition, an alliance of more than 20 organizations working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.

Poets have an important role in our culture and in communities all across the country. By supporting Poets Laureate at the state and local level, we hope to ensure that more people become acquainted with poets and poetry where they live and have an opportunity to benefit from innovative and groundbreaking programming close to home, said Michael Jacobs, Chairman of the Academy of American Poets.

Madden is a poet whose work exemplifies how poetry can spark conversation and can help us learn about one another’s lives and unique experiences, which promotes greater understanding. We’re honored to help underwrite Madden and the other twelve Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellows, all of whom are exceptional leaders, said Jennifer Benka, Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets.

Ed Madden was raised in Newport, Arkansas. He received a BA in English and French from Harding University, a BS in Biblical Studies from the Institute for Christian Studies, an MA in English from the University of Texas at Austin, and a PhD in literature from the University of Texas at Austin. His most recent collections include Ark (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016), Nest (Salmon Poetry, 2014), and Prodigal: Variations (Lethe Press, 2011). He currently teaches English at the University of South Carolina. Madden, who will receive $50,000, plans to launch “Telling the Stories of the City,” a project that will incorporate local and youth voices, build on community-based workshops, and create an interactive storymap of the city.

The full list of fellows to receive the first ever Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow awards of $50,000 to $100,000 each include Grace Cavalieri, Poet Laureate of Maryland, Molly Fisk, Poet Laureate of Nevada County, California, Jaki Shelton Green, Poet Laureate of North Carolina, Fred L. Joiner, Poet Laureate of Carrboro, North Carolina, Robin Coste Lewis, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, California, Claudia Castro Luna, Poet Laureate of Washington State, Ed Madden, Poet Laureate of Columbia, South Carolina, Adrian Matejka, Poet Laureate of Indiana, Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, Poet Laureate of Oklahoma, Paisley Rekdal, Poet Laureate of Utah, Raquel Salas Rivera, Poet Laureate of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kim Schuck, Poet Laureate of San Francisco, California, and TC Tolbert, Poet Laureate of Tucson, Arizona.

The Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowships panel included past U.S. Poets Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, Robert Pinsky, and Natasha Trethewey; National Student Poets Program founder and member of President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities Olivia Morgan; MacArthur Fellow Natalie Diaz and Guggenheim Fellow Mark Nowak. The panel was co-chaired by Eunice “Nicie” Panetta, executive producer and co-host of “Fresh,” a podcast series in development about the freshman class of the 116th Congress, and former board chair of the Academy of American Poets; and Jennifer Benka, president and executive director of the Academy of American Poets. Final award decisions, informed by the panel and the scope of the projects, were made by the Academy of American Poets.

About the Academy of American Poets
The Academy of American Poets is our nation’s leading champion of poets, poetry, and the work of poetry organizations. Founded in 1934 in New York City, the organization produces Poets.org, the world’s largest publicly-funded website for poets and poetry; National Poetry Month; the popular Poem-a-Day series; American Poets magazine; Teach This Poem and other resources for K-12 educators; an annual series of poetry readings and special events; and awards the American Poets Prizes. The organization also coordinates the work of a national Poetry Coalition working to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.

For additional information about the Academy of American Poets and the Poets Laureate Fellowships, visit: poets.org/academy-american-poets/2019-academy-american-poets-laureate-fellows

Ed Madden Reappointed for a Second Term

City’s Poet Laureate continues to make literary art public art for another term

COLUMBIA, S.C. February 4, 2019 – Dr. Ed Madden has been reappointed as the City’s Poet Laureate for a second four-year term. As the city’s first poet laureate, Dr. Madden has used his experience as a teacher and poet to create community-centered activities to help increase awareness and accessibility around the literary arts, in particular poetry, with the goal of making literary art a public art – something he plans to expand on during his second term.

Madden’s projects as city poet laureate include; Poetry on the Comet, Main Street poetry banners, EnjoySC’s Make Poetry day, poetry parking tickets for April Fool’s Day 2017, Free & Clear poetry boxes on front lawns around the city, and most recently the Rain Poetry sidewalk art project, which became a viral hit with many in the community. These are just a few examples of the work Madden has done as the Columbia’s Poet Laureate. After seeing the success of his work in the community, Madden is even more excited about the new opportunities he’s currently cooking up for the community, especially with the renewal of his new upcoming term.

“I am delighted and honored to continue in this position,” Madden said. “It has been a great experience, and I look forward to coming up with more ways to make literary arts public art, and put poetry into our everyday lives, and I really look forward to including more young writers and diverse writers from around the city in the work we do!“

Madden made his first official appearance as the newly reappointed city poet laureate on January 29, 2019 at the City of Columbia’s State of the City address. During the address, Madden presented a new poem titled “Better Angels.”

“Ed’s service to Columbia as our city’s first poet laureate has set the bar high for our future in terms of cultural leadership,” says Mayor Steve Benjamin. “It has truly been a pleasure and treat for us to consume Ed’s work over the years, and we look forward to seeing what’s to come in his next term.”

Better Angels

for Mayor Steve Benjamin’s State of the City address, 29 Jan 2019

Hanging on my sister-in-law’s wall
is a print we’ve all seen: an angel
hovering over two kids walking across
a rickety bridge, kids sure to fall

if she weren’t there—there’s a board
missing at their feet, the rail gone
on one side. The poor kids are barefoot,
the girl’s got a basket, she’s got her arm

round the boy’s shoulder. Neither sees
the angel, who floats above the bridge, lightning
in the distance. The angel reaches out
as if she’s blocking trouble on either side,

as if she wants to gather them up in her arms
and wrap them in her robes. She hovers over,
unable to do either. In 1861,
Lincoln asked his secretary of state

for help with his first inaugural address.
South Carolina had already done its part
to start butchering up the map of who we
were, and it was about to get worse.

What could he say, given the state of the union?
Sewell was glad to help, gave the president
seven pages of suggestions and wrote up
something pretty for the end, calling on

the guardian angel of the nation.

~

Lincoln didn’t use that phrase.
Instead, he said, mystic chords

 of memory would swell a chorus of unity,
of union once again, if touched, he said,

as surely they will be, by
the better angels of our nature.

No, for Lincoln, the answer wasn’t
some agent, some angel outside us

or beyond, but here, among us, within us.
He wasn’t thinking about angels

and demons sitting on our shoulders.
He was thinking about a message,

something we can almost hear
now, a century and a half later.

~

In the empty lot next door, daffodils
are coming up—a message from the past,
drawing the lines of a house no longer there.

That image of the guardian angel was first
a German postcard. The print in my in-law’s home
hangs in homage to a Mississippi grandma,

who’d hung it with a light shining on it.
In ancient scripture, an angel was just a messenger—
sometimes divine, sometimes human—the same

word, mal’ākh, same task. Scripture tells us
when we feed the hungry, welcome the stranger,
whatever we do to the poorest among us, we do

to the divine in all of us. Is that her brother?
Is that his sister? Am I my brother’s keeper?
What’s in her basket? Loaves and fishes?

What if the boy wore a hoodie and carried
a bag of Skittles? What if they were tired
and tongue-tied kids wrapped in silver

blankets? What if she were wearing a hijab?
What if he were wearing a prayer cap?
Or what if he already knows his difference, hers,

and they will come back to that bridge
years later to look down into the dark?
The angel hovering over is not the angel

of history, winds of catastrophe caught in her wings,
blowing her back. No, she’s looking at what’s
in front, not what’s behind them. The angel wants

to fix the bridge, the missing step, the broken
rail, but she knows she can’t. To do that
takes something better. It takes human hands.

Rain Poetry

One of my goals as poet laureate for the City of Columbia has been to think about poetry as a public art. And another goal is to create a venue for the voices of local and young writers. Recently, with the help of Lee Snelgrove at One Columbia, we installed a project that fortunately does both of these things.

After collecting poems from local writers and young poets including three middle schoolers and a high school student, we created stencils that were hand cut using cardboard.

Once the stencils were completed, we installed “Rain Poetry” throughout the city using Rainworks Magic Spray.

The spray is a hydrophobic “paint” that will stay invisible on dry concrete, but when it rains stay lighter against the darkened wet concrete. When this happen it reveals the poetry.

Most of the poems have been installed around the campus of the University of South Carolina where there’s lots of foot traffic, even on rainy days. But we’ve also installed them in Five Points, the Vista and around Main Street. We’ve even made a map so you can go hunt for them next time it rains. But, be quick! They’ll only likely last about six weeks.

Press About this Project:

This SC city has hidden ‘rain poems’ popping up all over town – WISTV

‘Rain Poetry’ appears on South Carolina city’s sidewalks – The State

Interstate Prayer

Created as part of the annual ArtLinc chalk art festival in the Lincoln Street Tunnel with my husband Bert Easter. Full text below photo.

Interstate Prayer

Every day the same, here along
the road, the cups and bottles people toss
away, the things we shed, evidence
of our careless lives. The wind does
what it can, the vines that hide our trash
with green–still there. May we turn to see
what we have done. May we better care
for what we’re given, here beside the rivers.

National Poetry Month 2018

April is National Poetry Month and this year’s recognition took many forms. While we didn’t pull pranks the same way as last year, we worked hard to get poetry out to as many people in their daily lives as possible. Through partnerships with the Comet, Indie Grits, Main Street District, Enjoy SC and Soda City, we were able to feature poetry in a public setting in a variety of ways.

“A lot of things we’ve been working on all came together this year,” says Madden. “I love that we’re putting poetry into daily life in so many ways, and I’m especially grateful to all the writers who were so generous with their work.”

Poetry on the Comet – In it’s third year, the Poetry on the Comet project brings together 30 different poems by authors from Columbia and South Carolina based on the Indie Grits 2018 theme “Two Cities.” Poetry has been posted prominently on the buses, was shared daily on Ed Madden’s Facebook page and is being published as a chapbook. Select poems were also displayed on screen during the 2018 Indie Grits Festival.

Main Street Banners – Poems by eight South Carolina poets were displayed on banners along Main Street for the month of April. The selections include phrases by James Dickey, Susan Laughter Meyers, Nikky Finney, Ed Madden, Ray McManus, Terrance Hayes, Marjory Wentworth and DeLana R.A. Dameron.

Free & Clear – Similar to the ubiquitous Little Free Libraries that families host in their yards throughout the city, poetry boxes are being hosted in neighborhoods across Columbia and offer free poems about homeownership and community. Passersby are offered the chance to take home a poem of their own.

EnjoySC: Make Poetry at the State House – Hosted by One Columbia for Arts & History and Ed Madden, Columbia’s Poet Laureate, in partnership with the City of Columbia through a Knight Cities Challenge Grant, the Enjoy SC: Make Poetry event featured poets from across South Carolina reading poetry on April 18 and April 21 . Attendees consulted with poets on-site who will type a take-home poem on typewriters.

Window and Wall

for Mayor Steve Benjamin’s State of the City address, 30 Jan 2018

“Cities have awakened….”
Harlan Kelsey and Irvin Guild, The Improvement of Columbia, South Carolina (1905)

It took nine months of work.

Painting the wall, he carved out a tunnel, hung the sun in front of us.

Nine white overhead lights lead us through the tunnel to the other side.

We did not deem it desirable, at this time, said Kelsey & Guild in 1905, to place too much emphasis upon detail, because, in doing so, the main objects sought might easily be lost sight of.

The details of the mural trick the eye, the real stone merging with the fake, the real metal barriers beside the painted traffic signs.

The things that seem to block the way are the things that make you see.

The real windows on the wall look fake, become part of the painting: the vision of what’s beyond is the point.

Cities have awakened, wrote Kelsey and Guild, to the urgent need for a systematic plan for [the] future.

In 1976, People magazine called the image “a brilliant orange sunset.” The State newspaper later called it “a descending sun.”

A comprehensive plan for development, said Kelsey & Guild, should consider well the tendencies of growth, and the physical features that … govern such growth.

Two white arrows show both lanes going forward, no one is headed back.

It is not clear, really, if the sun is rising or setting.

My first few weeks in Columbia, a friend drove me over to see it, early evening, the moment the tunnel seems most real, as if you could drive into it.

The sun is the same size as a yellow traffic sign that warns of a right turn ahead, the road curving away and out of sight. Forty years ago, he warned us of a hard swerve to the right, something we couldn’t yet see.

It is quite possible, Kelsey & Guild admitted, that this report will be more useful in its suggestions that in the plan outlined.

Blue Sky told People magazine, I wanted to reach through that wall, touch something larger than life.

Rumor is a kid once drove right into the mural.

The South Carolina Encyclopedia reminds us that Kelsey and Guild’s proposals were too ambitious to receive serious consideration, but they set a precedent for comprehensive planning.

The things that block the way must be
the things that help you see.

The wall was a way out.

The windows are dark,
the sun is shining in front of us.