MUSCATINE — Walking to Muscatine City Hall on a rainy Tuesday, a poem etched into the sidewalk stops a resident in her tracks. For a moment, she looks down with concentration, then a smile crawls across her face.
A poem by Musser Public Library Children's Librarian Betty Collins now greets residents heading to City Hall, offering some color and perspective on one of the first cool autumn days of the year. Collins is one of five poets to win the Muscatine County Arts Council's Wandering Words contest and have their work stamped into concrete around Muscatine.
"It's a thrill to have a poem in the sidewalk," Collins said. "And I was really pleased and honored. It was lovely to see it and it was a great feeling."
A poetry and language enthusiast, Collins said "it was a fun challenge to make a short poem with only a certain number of characters per line, and still try to squeeze in something of value and importance."
Her poem reads, "Words, like steps, march us into the future till around some corner a new path may leave us, finally, speechless."
"You read it and it's just so witty," said Coordinator Duffy De France, with the arts council.
De France said this is the second year the non-profit has held the Wandering Words Poetry Contest. Around 20 county residents submitted work and five poems were chosen to be placed in concrete, including outside the Musser Public Library, at the Pearl Plaza Patio and at the intersection of 2nd Street and Iowa Avenue.
The final location, outside the Muscatine History and Industry Center, is now home to a poem by De France, which she said was inspired by the famous painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat.
She wrote, "Chalk artists dot concrete/A soccer ball flits among/Fans with picnic baskets/Cicadas sing with guitars/Salsa dancing in the mist/Two boys with cane poles/Pride their fish trophies/Seurat's park comes alive."
"I was inspired by Seurat, the one who painted the painting of people in the turn of the century ... using pointillism to paint a park scene," she said. "And then just looking at the riverfront park, I decided to write what I saw."
De France said accomplished Muscatine writer Pat Bieber judged the contest, and is happy to share the work of "talented people in the community expressing their art."
She hopes to continue the contest in the future, and possibly create a city map or mobile app that could show visitors where to find the poems. This year, she is pleased the Muscatine City Council agreed to having the poems displayed in popular areas around the city.
"Especially with the new hotel coming in and more restaurants downtown, more people are likely to read them," she said.
While last year, the poems were embossed into stamps then placed in wet concrete, this year, the city saved money by using stencil forms instead of stamps. De France said the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine donated around $750 for the project.
The other winning poems were written by Yvonne Breiner, Mary Kay Lane and Annette Matjucha Hovland.