Our society is submersed in mass media. Everybody knows it.
Maneuvering through manipulative advertisements has become such a mindless process in our daily grind that we seldom give it a second thought—we ingest information without conscious discretion, and that, according to BYU grad student Ashley Mae Christensen, is a problem.
In an attempt to replace hollow advertisements with substance, Christensen is spearheading an endeavor she calls the Billboard Poetry Project. The aim is to offer commuters in Utah County a heartfelt, thought-provoking alternative to the barrage of billboards vying for their attention. Poetry will be displayed on three billboards in Provo throughout the month of September.
Christensen earned her BFA in painting and her MFA in poetry from BYU. To her, as attested by her fields of study, art is extremely important. It has an enriching and empowering effect on life.
“I believe in the art and writing created around me,” she said. “I am buoyed up by it.”
For this reason, Christensen is taking an active role propagating the arts in her community. The idea for the project was sparked while driving on the freeway and noticing the endless procession of heartless billboards lining the banks of the road.
“I saw words, images, phrases, ideas, but nothing that resonated with my soul… My heart felt heavy and manipulated as we whizzed past billboards flaunting liposuction, plastic surgery, chain restaurants that offer little by way of local culture and talent.”
Christensen thought, “What if we put poems up on these billboards?” For over a year, she and her husband couldn’t stop talking about the idea—and after help from a professor, a grant from the Laycock Center for Creative Collaboration in the Arts, submissions from over 100 poets and the aid of a graphic designer, her dream finally became a reality.
A poem called “Small Prayer” by Derek Henderson was selected from a pool of applicants and will be posted on three billboards in Provo. Henderson is a Ph.D. student of poetry at the University of Utah.
“Good poetry doesn’t always have a clear interpretation,” Christensen said. “‘Small Prayer’ is a poem with a lot of ambiguity—one that we hope will provoke contemplation for those who pass by it on their way to school or work.”
The end objective is to help people shift their gaze to things more beautiful and wholesome in the community. Often times we are so close to beauty that we don’t see it.
“I want people to recognize the intelligence and beauty of the poetry, writing and art created right in our midst,” Christensen said. “I want these billboards to be a representation of what we are capable of as a community.”
You can see the three billboards in sequence by driving South on State Street into Springville.
All secrets, all smiles
invisible in my house.
There is a bird in the woods whose song stops you
in a field full of tulips.
Whatever you say
if you wake up sometime — on the steps of the
roads that are not roads, as
night swells seaweed —
amend, thank-you, amen. — Derek Henderson
Reception and poetry reading: September 10th. Meet in the BYU stadium parking lot between 6:00-6:30 pm to drive past the billboards together, then on to an artist reception and poetry reading at 7:00 pm in the park on 7th East and Center Street in Provo.