Poetry bombing: The art of displacement and discovery

When was the last time you discovered an unanticipated gift you never asked for but turns out to be a pleasant surprise?

That was my first thought when this YouTube feature about Agustina Woodgate, an interdisciplinary artist in Miami, Florida, who decided to embark on her project of sewing poetry tags on pieces of garment in a thrift store.

“I want it to be like a gesture, through poetry by displacing something that is not meant to be there,” she said. “All of a sudden it becomes a surprise, so it becomes a gift. It’s this idea of discovering. People like to discover things.”

And I certainly do agree with her. I love going to flea markets to rummage through the pile of second-hand clothing, old books and cameras, hoping to pick up some real gem and breathe new life into items that are about to be discarded. The joy of not knowing what to expect can be unsettling but exhilarating, particularly when you find something new.

So when Woodgate went around different thrift stores, she sewed on tags without seeking prior permission from the staff, sometimes at obvious places such as T-shirt tags, other times at less prominent areas such as inside jeans’ pockets to add on a dash of uncertainty.

But what is really beautiful is the whole concept behind her actions she calls ‘poetry bombing,’ which aims to make poetry more accessible to a broader audience by introducing a bit of art into our daily lives. The poems she attached are as below:

“Life is a huge dream,
why work so hard?” – Li Po
(处世若大梦,胡为劳其生 – 李白)

“Even the sun-clouds this morning
cannot manage such skirts” – Sylvia Plath

Instead of passively waiting for general audiences to visit artwork nicely framed up in museums, Woodgate brings a form of art to them by attaching slips of paper onto items we would casually associate with any arty-farty. The sense of displacement and lightness in her actions makes poetry more down-to-earth and surprisingly approachable, a very interesting approach to delivering a form of expression that appears contrived and distant for most people.

But perhaps it’s this element of unexpectedness that makes the project altogether fun for people to discover in their mundane routine of life.

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