Rain Poetry ‘surprises’ delight community at Vernon Park

May 22, 2023
Student poets, teachers and facilitators who participated in the Rain Poetry workshop at Emlen Elementary pose after the students read their poems at Vernon Park on Saturday, May 20.

By Karen Price

Anam Owili-Eger grew up in Germantown, and one of the things he loves about the community is all the little surprises that are tucked away in different spots throughout the neighborhood.

That now includes PA Humanities’ first Rain Poetry installation, which was revealed in Vernon Park on Saturday. Visitors to the green space nestled between Germantown Avenue and Greene Street in Upper Germantown can now find poetry written by students from nearby Emlen Elementary School stenciled on the ground right next to the park’s beautiful rain garden and in front of the steps to the Center in the Park. One of the poems was written by Owili-Eger’s 11-year-old daughter, Coraline.

“So to have her be part of one of these little surprises is really special,” he said.

One of Germantown’s young residents cheers for his big brother after he read his haiku. Visible on the ground are some of the students’ poems.

Poetry is about connection and can help build community, and even on a rainy morning the community came out for the official unveiling of Rain Poetry. The project, which is made possible by a grant from the William Penn Foundation, partnered children in grades one through five from five Philadelphia neighborhoods with local poets and Youth Poets Laureate to learn the art of haiku. The children wrote their own haikus inspired by the theme “What helps you keep growing?” and some of those poems are now being installed in public spaces in the students’ neighborhoods. Some are decals, and others use a special water-activated paint. Invisible when dry, the poems magically appear when wet. 

Coraline said she already liked to write poetry even before the Rain Poetry workshop at her school, and plans to keep doing it as a hobby.

“It was fun to learn the process (of writing haiku),” she said. 

Lori Rapp, of East Falls, was there to support her niece, one of the youth poets.

“Poetry is a wonderful outlet, therapeutic and cathartic, and a way to express oneself on paper,” she said. “To have the community support that is really phenomenal.” 

Fittingly, Mother Nature handled the “unveiling” of the poetry with rain showers that lasted throughout the morning. 

“All it takes is a little rain, and here we are,” PA Humanities executive director Laurie Zierer told the crowd gathered under their umbrellas. “And it’s the perfect place, beside the gorgeous rain garden, to have these hidden gems and treasures waiting to be revealed. They are the talents and the beauty of the children who are around us.”

Coraline recites her haiku for the crowd at Vernon Park with fellow poets Kailei (left), Aadam, and Takari.

The Rain Poetry initiative transforms these spaces into opportunities to engage with the humanities, and fosters learning, conversation, and community stewardship . Amanda Charles, senior program associate with the William Penn Foundation, spoke of the challenges that youth across the city have faced in recent years, including two years of isolation due to the pandemic. 

“Participation in art, music and poetry classes can have a significant positive impact on children and youth and give them outlets to express their emotions,” she said. “That is why the William Penn Foundation funded the poetry workshops led by PA Humanities as part of the Rain Poetry project, and why the foundation supports organizations throughout the city to provide high quality literacy-rich programming and spaces for children.”

The Philadelphia project team includes former Philadelphia Poets Laureate Trapeta B. Mayson and Yolanda Wisher and former Montgomery County Poet Laureate Dr. Cathy Cohen, as well as Philadelphia Youth Poets Laureate Telicia Darius, Cydney Brown, Husnaa Hashim, Mia Concepcion and David Jones. Both Concepcion and Jones read their poetry at Saturday’s event. 

Tiny WPA will be installing Rain Poetry at four additional sites across Philadelphia between now and September, then the project will move to Pittsburgh. 

To read more coverage of Saturday’s event and Rain Poetry visit:

The Rain Poetry project is made possible with the generous support of the William Penn Foundation.

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