by Todd Boss, poet
Two years after I started writing 35-word Fragments for the 35W Bridge, I’d gone and written nearly 35 of them. I didn’t know what I had: Was it any good? Would anybody care? I decided to share the project with two people whose opinion I trusted.
1. Maja Spasova
I had met Maja (pronounced MY-a) three years earlier at Ragdale, a retreat center in Chicago. In Europe, where she lives, Maja is known for large-scale public art projects. Ever since she’d seen the worldwide media coverage of the I-35W Bridge collapse, she’d been sending me drafts of ideas for big installations on the river. I thought my poems would be interesting to her, and sure enough … Soon plans were in place for a major public art installation to mark the collapse anniversary.
Maja’s concept was to anchor 35 oversized night-lit life-rings in the Mississippi between the historic Stone Arch Bridge and the new 35W Bridge. The result, she said, would be a contemplative meditation on safety and risk, change and stasis, disaster and salvation, the individual and the communal, power and fragility.
Viewers of the installation would have access to recordings of my poems by calling a phone number, Maja said. In early 2012 during a visit to the site and with help from the Friends of the Hennepin County Library, Maja spent three days making recordings of Minnesotans telling their stories of the collapse and reading my poems in their own voices.
What followed was a 3-month roller coaster ride of writing, planning, and applying for permits from a host of government, military, and community institutions, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service, the City of Minneapolis, The Historic Preservation Office, the US Coast Guard, the DNR, and more.
It was like an alien invasion. Inner tubes, donated by Countrywide Tire and Rubber in Plymouth, landed in my garage. Each day, my wife and kids inflated more and more of them till our house was surrounded. Paint was donated by Plasti Dip of Blaine. Friends began volunteering canoes and trailers. This thing was coming together.
2. Laurie Hertzel / Connie Nelson / Kate Parry
Meanwhile, seeking advice about who might be willing to publish the poems, I sent them to Laurie Hertzel, books editor of the Star Tribune. She sent them to her editor, Connie Nelson, who sent it to her editor, Kate Parry, and before I knew it, the Star Tribune was planning to publish them. All of them. On the front cover of the Variety section. To the exclusion of other content. On the August 1 anniversary of the collapse.
My poem, Connie said, would allow the Star Tribune to mark this important anniversary with something poignant, thoughtful, personal, and artful. What an honor: to think my poem could be such an inspiration for art-making and community.
As of this writing, Maja is on her way to the US from London. When she gets here, we’ll continue to inflate and paint the rings, and oversee their installation in the slow-moving backwater area of the Mississippi near Hennepin Island Park, between upper and lower St. Anthony Falls, between the 35W and Stone Arch Bridges.
Connie is supervising the layout of the poem, the voice recordings and signage for the installation, as well as an online page where you’ll be invited to contribute your own 35-word poem about the collapse.
The project will go live on August 1, with an informal gathering at 8pm at the northeast end of the Stone Arch Bridge. No speeches, just interactions. Please come and meet Maja and Connie, see the installation, and toast the whole project.