Edie Tsong appears to be a little frantic as she spreads out 10-inch-tall cutout letters transported inside an SFR back issue.
The clock is ticking, and she has less than two hours to use them to stencil a poem—using canned spray snow as a medium—in the street-facing windows of the Teen Court building.
She says the large size of the letters allows for both pedestrians and motorists to take note. “It’s Helvetica CY,” Tsong points out. “The same typeface they use in street signs.”
Aided by two interns and a couple of ladders, she begins assembling what will eventually spell out “Floating from the heavens, wildly dancing round.” It was written by Mateo Martinez, a 12th grader from Santa Fe High School, and it’s the first snow poem of many that Tsong, president of the Cut+Paste Society, will spray around town.
“This is the toughest part right here, the spacing,” she explains, doing her best to work around the window’s tricky aluminum grid.
“The ‘R’ in round is giving us issues,” she says, as she moves a ladder out of the way to unblock one of the building’s doors and allow people to pass. A snip job later, the issue is resolved. She claims the letter now looks “anemic,” yet is determined to “make this work.”
Propelled by a SITE Santa Fe Spread grant, Tsong explains that Snow Poems Project was born out of a need to reclaim public spaces, and beautify them in silent protest.
She also thinks of it as a mom’s response to the Occupy movement.
“It’s the dead of winter, and we need something to carry us through it,” she says. “Last year, right at solstice, I heard this beautiful prayer that this woman was saying: ‘Now we enter the darkness of winter as a time of incubation and reflection.’ And that was how the idea started.”
Eventually, Tsong says, the convention center, a number of galleries and both the main branch and south side public library windows will have snow poems of their own. An event dubbed “Night of Illumination,” slated for February, will feature a walking tour of the downtown poem locations.
A temporary install, all snow poems will be washed out when the first rays of spring arrive.
Before then, she hopes the idea will catch on and business owners will volunteer their windows. The scoping of potential windows, Tsong says, is now unavoidable and ever-present.
“People have been really positive,” Tsong says. “People like Labor Ready, you know on Fifth Street, I pass there and notice every single window now and think I want to see a snow poem there—because they have this gorgeous big window—and I went in there.”
As in Teen Court’s case, she strives for the poems to be written by someone with a direct connection to the space.
“The whole idea is bringing this intimacy to our public spaces,” she muses. “We’re always running to work, running errands. This is actually where we spend our lives, and we want to have it be beautiful.”
Tsong has written a couple of snow poems herself, but doesn’t know yet whether she’s made the cut, as the decision of which poems get selected is up to Cut+Paste as a whole.
“The poems do not have to be about snow,” she notes. “They can be about anything, and it’s actually better to have a variety of things. Anything that’s authentic.”
Asked whether the project—which has become a full-time gig for the last three months—has artistic heft, Tsongs’s response is split-second. “Absolutely! I think it has artistic value and social value, and I think it helps people connect with each other through place, because there’s these intimate, these authentic voices just up there,” she says. “And you’ll see, when all the poems are up, you’ll notice the variety of voices.”
According to the Oakland transplant, this project is uniquely Santa Fean.
“There are so many poets here and so many artists [that] I feel like it kind of just oozed out of Santa Fe,” she says.
Staring at the finished project from across the street, Tsong explains that her vision transcends storefronts.
“People, when they’re in the public space, they connect with it as a human space, and not just as a functional place,” she says.
“We are human beings, and this is our city—and we don’t have to be city planners to make it what we want it to be.”
Snow Poems: Night of Illumination
6-8 pm Friday, Feb. 22. Free
Community Gallery, 201 W Marcy St.