Broadsides as News


The Poetry Center's collection of about 1200 broadsides has always been a point of pride and fascination for me--these large sheets of paper with poems printed on them are just so physically lovely. Many of the broadsides in our collection are printed letterpress; many are on handmade paper and feature bold, striking illustrations. Simply put, they're beautiful objects. I've covered my office walls with them in all different sizes. I love how each one shouts out its poem. 

As the pandemic crisis stretches on, and as our building is closed to the public, I find a renewed urgency and necessity in the broadside form. Right now, the threat of illness prevents us from handing books back and forth and from talking about poems: what a cruel irony, when poets have so much to say to us about grief, stress, illness, beauty, crisis, violence, and hope. We need community and we need poems--so the library staff has resorted to making our own "broadsides" and taping copies of poems up in our windows, for folks to read as they pass through our DIY chalk labyrinth. Many passersby have left chalked poems of their own in return. The broadside originated as a way to spread news quickly: think of Luther's 99 Theses, think of proclamations from the local king. Now, the Library staff uses the broadside to spread poems as best we can.

We'll have more DIY "broadsides" for you in our windows as the summer progresses. For now, I'll leave you with a beautiful broadside from the Rose O'Neill Literary House featuring Jamaal May's poem "There Are Birds Here: For Detroit."

Broadside of Jamaal May's There Are Birds Here: For Detroit