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Matt Robinson gets poetic in Grand Parade 

Downtown traffic control box becomes a site for poetry and paintings.

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If you’ve walked through Grand Parade recently, maybe you noticed that the traffic control box is looking less dull these days. Take a closer look. The panels are painted in muted, watery colours, like age-old slate, with faded images of ships and skylines. And there are words. Elegant, poetic phrases that carry around the box, demanding you to follow.

The painted traffic box is part of an HRM-wide project. Poet Matthew Robinson was contacted by Heather MacLeod, who works for the city’s Community Relations & Cultural Affairs department, to work on a site-specific poem for Grand Parade.

“From that point on I started to do a little research on the Grand Parade—-after Heather explained the particular traffic box that she had in mind—-and eventually came up with the poem we ended up using,” says Robinson. He says the poem isn’t exactly commemorative, but “something that was accessible and interesting; something that would be rather easily associated with the city and its people. I hope the poem does that in a reasonable way.”

The poem subtly references the city’s significant historical events and future possibilities, its geography and ever-changing population. Robinson says it also “plays on the idea of the parade square as a space/pause in the syntax of the ever-developing downtown. In the now bustling, crowded, sentence of the downtown core, the square is a breath of fresh air, a kind of reflective pause.”

The box itself was painted by artist William Johnson, who collaborated with Robinson on the basic concept: “stone base in terms of the box's look, monument-type/chiselled letters, shadows of the various aspects of the city.”

In some ways, this project became a muse for Robinson, as one poem led to another. He wrote an entire series based on other aspects of HRM, which will fill a second section of his new poetry collection, to be released in Spring 2010 by ECW Press. He calls the section “toeing the slack-toed narrows.”

“I'm not sure where this will go next,” says the poet. “ I'm hoping it'll be well received. I've noticed folks stopping and reading when I've wandered by the box in the last few weeks, at least. Ideally, this might result in more boxes with more poems elsewhere…I also think it'd be amazing to have a program where we have all sorts of different poetic voices from the area speaking to different sections of the HRM, different landmarks, etc. We certainly have the folks to do it: Brian Bartlett, Sue Goyette, Sue MacLeod and our new HRM poet laureate Shauntay Grant, just to name a few of the top of my head...”

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