Again this year we are putting poems on the Comet, the Midlands regional transit system buses. Our theme: OPENINGS! As our new mayor Daniel Rickenmann took office, he emphasized two priorities. Columbia is open for business, he said, and Columbia is a city with open arms for all.

What do these phrases mean to you—open for business, open arms? How have the last two years changed what these phrases mean to you? Open for business. Opening up. Open arms, and arms wide open. Eyes wide open. The great wide open. Out in the open. Open access. Open books. Open your hymnal. Opening your mail. Opening presents. Open doors. Open house. Open invitation. Open plan. Open range. Open 24/7. Open hearts and open minds. Open to the possibilities. Out in the open. Open secret. Open seating. Open season. Open sesame!

  • Use the subject line POEMS ON THE COMET 2022.
  • Poems should be 10 lines or fewer. (They have to fit the bus cards and be legible.)
  • Include your city of residence. If you are a young writer, please include your school.
  • Submissions opened March 1. Rolling deadline, but we are hoping to have 30 great poems by the end of April.

Submit to for consideration.

A Poem a Day Keeps the Blues Away?

As Ed Madden begins his final year as the city’s poet laureate, he has given himself the challenge of writing a short poem every day on the back of a postcard. And then sending that card to someone in the mail! Many are going to people he knows, but many are also going to strangers and random addresses.

Before they go in the mail, he’s posting images on social media. You can find them on Instagram and Facebook (and sometimes Twitter) with the laureate or project hashtags: #columbiapoet and #postpoems2022.

Madden says that after the isolation of the past two years, he wanted to do some kind of poetry project that would emphasize human connection, even if at a distance, even if through the mail. He said also hopes that picking out random postcards and trying to write a tiny poem every morning helps kickstart his own creativity, and he hopes it inspires others—to write, but more than that, to reach out to other people.

Not just a collar

for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
at a memorial on the steps of the SC State Supreme Court, 24 Sept 2020

A collar is not just a collar—one thing
they taught us, Ginsburg and O’Connor in jabots
of lace, staking a place among the men
all in collar and tie. Ginsberg saw
the Constitution as a document of promise,
not privilege. She said that even when
you change the players, separate but equal is still
not equal, the field’s not level, and as long
as laws rely on unproven assumptions
about the way women are, those laws
keep women in their place, not
on a pedestal but in a cage. And whether
or not a surviving parent is mom or dad,
the child is still a child and it should be
apparent that a parent is still a parent.
And whether or not that Arizona girl
had a pill in her pocket at school, the men
in the room need to consider how it would feel
to be strip-searched for Ibuprophen
as a 13-year-old girl. She won that one
but sometimes it’s not about winning here
and now, but in a distant there and then
when women have the same opportunities
as men.

If a collar is not just a collar,
a jabot may be both job and jab,
the lace meticulous, precise, knots
and links like the inky lace of letters
on a page. She says her college lit professor
taught her that the right words in the right
order matter, that words can paint a picture.
If a South Carolina law had caused the court
to say a blight of racism infects the body
politic, she said it had become more
like the Hydra, the monster snake Hercules
fought that grew new heads every time
he cut one off. Every time a racist
election law was identified and stopped,
she said, “others sprang up in its place,”
like Texas trying to disenfranchise Blacks
by passing the same law over and over
again. The other judges pretended that,
as Roberts said, “things have changed dramatically.”
She said, instead, that throwing out something
when it has worked and is continuing to work
to stop discrimination “is like throwing
away your umbrella in a rainstorm because
you are not getting wet.” The right
words in the right order. When rioters
were banging on the glass doors of a Florida
election office with clipboards and fists in order
to shut down the recount in Bush v. Gore,
she was a dogged defender of proper procedure,
even if it meant delay in naming a president.
It was then she dropped “respectfully” from
the usual close, writing instead, I dissent.

The court, she said, does not write on a clean
slate. Things accumulate, persist, like mercury
in a river in Roebuck, South Carolina,
even after the company changed their name
to Safety-Kleen, then finally closed the plant.
It’s all moot, they said, since they had
cleaned up their act, though it wasn’t clear
they wouldn’t do it again. Or like the pay
raises Lilly Ledbetter received, small
increments that deceived her for years. Other
judges pretended that “each and every pay
decision she did not immediately challenge
wiped the slate clean.” Yet those decisions,
together, set and kept her pay well below
every other manager.

There is no
clean slate. There’s only history, precedent,
the blurred and half-erased words we write
over. In ‘73 Ginsburg urged the Court
to recognize that it writes not only for
“this case and this day alone” but other
cases like it, and others to come, asking—
whether a state cherishes its daughters as much
as its sons, whether a schoolgirl has got
a pill in her pocket or not, whether a raise
is really a raise when it’s all added up.

A few years ago the justice wrote, “Dissents
speak to a future age. . . . That’s the dissenter’s
hope: that they are writing not for today,
but for tomorrow.” A collar is not just
a collar. When Ginsburg opened her office closet
for Katie Couric, it was a glossary, a semiotics
of gift, event, decision. And when she wore
that spiky rhinestone-studded number she got
from Glamour, we knew what it meant: dissent.
But maybe it’s not spikes but 20-something
dark and dazzling tongues, speaking not quite
as one but pointed, speaking up and speaking
out, speaking against, against, dissenting.

For today, we are ruthless,
but we speak not for today, but for tomorrow.

Watch the live WISTV recording of the event.


A poem for the adoption of the new City of Columbia flag
March 10, 2020

A leaf, a wing, a sail,
something lifted, lifting,
something new. What

does it mean, he asks.
By which she means, what
do you see? Three

rivers come together.
A road stretches toward
horizon—a lane of light,

of white, into the distance,
which is the future, a lane
of blue to remind you of sky

and water, and who we were.
The shadow of hills flares
against the sky, or forests,

another blue beyond us,
and beyond that a light
in a dark sky, a guide,

talisman, beacon, star.
The horizon is who we are.

Here is a video of Ed reading the poem for the Richland Library.

Poems on the Comet 2020

It’s time to put poems on Columbia’s buses again, and this time we are thinking about time!

Calendars, clocks, alarms, schedules, timetables. The seasons, holidays, weekends, birthdays, anniversaries, the sun and the moon. The clock on the scoreboard, the calendar of migrating birds at the feeder. When the tulips bloom, when the ginkos turn gold, and when pollen coats everything. What marks time in your neighborhood—school buses, the mail truck, the leaf-blowers on Saturday morning? Church bells and calls to prayer. Rites of passage, growing up, growing old, fitness regimes and family reunions. How do we measure the passage of time, how do you experience time?

In 2015 we told the stories of the city. In 2017, we saw poems about rivers. In 2018, we thought about how we experience the city, what separates us and what unites us. We’ve been mapping the geography and spaces of the city, so now we want to think about the times and seasons of the city.

Requirements:  Poems should be 10 lines or fewer and should address the theme.  Submit to for consideration. DEADLINE MARCH 16. (Earlier submissions appreciated.)

Download a PDF of this call 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

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, 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:

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.