Created by artist and graphic designer Randy Burman in collaboration with a number of local poets, the Miami-Dade Department of Poetry Works Poetry Traffic Sign project installed poetry traffic signs all around Miami-Dade County during this year’s O, Miami poetry festival in April. The signs looked exactly like real traffic signs, except each one contained a poem instead of the usual NO PARKING, etc.
'What is the Poetry Traffic Sign project all about anyway?' asks the project's website, answering: 'Well there’s only one answer to that: humanity. That’s why poetry and all the arts are important. The other stuff is boom and bust. You have it. You don’t have it. Fortunes are made and lost. Gained again, or not. Times, styles and circumstances change, but one thing is constant and certain. Our need to understand each other is what “really” matters. That’s what this project is about. Little interventions to stimulate the discoverer’s sense of humanity. Tiny gestures, to be sure, but bold enough to take on the challenge of making the world a better place one poem at a time.'
Poet Annette Wells wrote this about Dept. of Poetry Works: “Thank you for your wonderful whimsical project. I love semiotics, so am interested to see firsthand people’s reactions to the unexpected road signs… In a time when the arts are being marginalized in schools, maybe this will capture people’s attention and they will insist that their kids get a dose or two of creative writing! At very least it will give people something interesting to think about.
When asked what will become of the signs, Burman said: “Well, in the case of the last poetry sign I installed [on a pier], I think it will be covered with barnacles very soon. Depending on how quickly the sea rises, that process may take a little longer for some of the others. Many of the signs are no longer where they were installed. I’m not sure if they were removed by authorities, or by individuals who simply wanted a poetry sign for themselves. Many are still in place and it's anybody's guess how long they will remain. I have no present plans to remove any, and in fact still have a few left I’d like to install in some of the places we never got around to. I will admit to the fact that I still have some signs, installation hardware, and tools in my car, and will very likely not be able to resist installing a few more when the opportunity arises.”
Would Burman consider continuing on with the Dept. of Poetry Works at a future time? “I'd gladly do this project again. The whole process—creating the call for submissions, receiving the submissions, investigating the materials, planning, mapping the county, and especially the installations—was exhilarating. Really the closest I've come to performance art. We'd go out on the streets with our official looking Department of Poetry Works shirts, hardhat, tool belt, orange cones, Bob's Barricades A-frame signs, and I'm sure to all the passersby we just seemed like any other Men at Work municipal employee."