Monument Lab is tying poems and memorials for Philadelphians

A creative writing alumna will host a reading with several Philadelphia poets on Wednesday in Logan Square.

Yolanda Wisher, a 2000 creative writing MFA alumna, performs poetry last week in Dilworth Park as a preview event of “Monument to the Philadelphia Poet,” which will open on Wednesday. | OLIVIA O’NEILL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

For Yolanda Wisher, monuments aren’t just historical statues or commemorative plaques — they can also be places in time.

Wisher, a 2000 creative writing MFA alumna and Philly’s third poet laureate, will host “Monument to the Philadelphia Poet” in Logan Square on Wednesday. She will perform a newly written poem at the event, which is part of Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Monument Lab, a nine-week-long public art and history project discussing the meaning of monuments in the city.

Writers Lillian Dunn, Raquel Salas Rivera and Nicole Steinberg are Wisher’s co-hosts. The event will recognize young poets and writers while also displaying the similarities between poems and monuments.

“A monument doesn’t have to be stone and built,” said Trapeta Mayson, a 1993 MBA alumna. Mayson, a close friend and colleague of Wisher, will be performing a new poem she wrote.

“It is not only what is carved, it is the untold stories, what people value, hold dear, [their] anger [and] what provokes others,” she added.

The hosts each chose poets both young and old who have made an influence on their lives or whose work they admire.

Wisher chose three poets for the event: a poet she has worked with since early in her career, a poet she met mid-career and a young poet she has known since the poet’s childhood. She declined to share the names of the poets, due to the secrecy of the event.

Mayson will perform a poem that she wrote about Karyn Olivier’s Monument Lab project, “The Battle Is Joined,” in which Olivier has covered the Battle of Germantown monument in Vernon Park with a mirrored casing, showing the reflections of passersby.

Mayson is the executive director of Historic Germantown, a partnership of 16 houses, destinations and museums in Northwest Philadelphia.

In a Mural Arts video, Olivier, a sculpture professor, said she hopes the reflections will allow people “a reconsidering of each moment, and how precious it is.”

Mayson’s poem will be written from the perspective of an elderly person, reflecting on the American Revolutionary War monument and why Olivier covered the structure.

“Karyn Olivier was able to get people talking with her work,” Mason said.

Wisher, who also lives in Germantown, has been writing since she was 8 years old. It was then that she fell in love with the human language.

“Language became an elevated music form for me,” she said. “Poetry was a way of reflecting on my life, but also boiling it down to music.”

Wisher turned her words into monuments through her poetry, she said, like “Monk Eats an Afro” and “Peace is a Haiku Song.”  She wrote the latter poetry book with Sonia Sanchez, the city’s first poet laureate and a former English professor.

Wisher’s original reason for coming to the city was to study under Sanchez, whom she admired as a mother, civil rights activist and poet.

Wisher began her time in the city’s public arts world as the director of art education for Mural Arts. She left the job in 2015 and was named the city’s poet laureate the following year.

“It’s a great community and it feels as though I never left,” Wisher said.

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