If you were one of the thousands of rainbow-clad marchers who filled Main Street in early September, you may have already heard Professor Ed Madden read his poem, “At the corner of Lady and Main.” If you weren’t lucky enough to attend Famously Hot SC Pride, the poem is recreated on his website, columbiapoet.org. Just remember — this poem, which weaves soliloquy with conversation and addresses the complicated relationship of Columbia-of-the-present with Columbia-of-the-past, was written as a celebration. It is best read not alone in a classroom, but aloud to a broad, joyous crowd.
As poet laureate of Columbia, Professor Madden’s official position involves “carrying out activities that engage the public in poetry.” After a year and a half holding these duties, Professor Madden has initiated several major projects designed to bring poetry to the public’s fingertips. “I think a lot,” Professor Madden says, “about how to write in a meaningful way to reach a range of audiences, including those who might never otherwise read or listen to poetry.” Those living in Columbia last year might remember the short poems, submitted by local authors of all ages, that rode on the exterior of COMET buses. Local caffeine addicts could also read poetry while they sipped lattes; a series of short poems were printed on coffee sleeves for select cafes. Both initiatives are part of Professor Madden’s vision of a Columbia that treats poetry as an integral part of contemporary culture. “One of my goals as the city’s laureate is to get poems in public places and the literary arts into our daily lives.”
On top of this, Columbia’s poet laureate is expected to write poems for special and solemn occasions of statewide significance. Although consistently writing poems worthy of the front page of The State (see “The lesson that night,” one year after the Charleston shooting) seems like a daunting task, Professor Madden approaches it with curiosity and poise. “It’s never really the same city, even after years of living here,” he says. “It’s full of new stories everywhere you turn.” For both budding writers and nonreaders, hearing fresh, vital poetry about current events happening in our city is a refreshing reminder of the artistry found in our everyday lives.