is an independent literary publisher based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, still often referred to as the steel city.
Blast furnaces were utilized for smelting and refining industrial metals, generally iron, and were widely used in the creation of steel in the Pittsburgh/Western Pennsylvania region during the United States' 20th century industrial boom.
Each year, Blast Furnace posts a special edition of the journal, and every
other year that edition focuses on a Pittsburgh-based literary event, cause, or
organization. This year, we’re pleased to feature the Pittsburgh Poems Project.
The Pittsburgh Poems Project was
created by workers and volunteers at Literary Arts Boom (The LAB). Inspired by
826 Valencia, one of eight chapters across the
country, the LAB is a creative, collaborative writing space offering free and
low-cost out-of-school programming to Pittsburgh youth ages six through
eighteen. Students practice and improve their inquiry and writing skills by
participating in project-based workshops that incorporate art, technology, and
communication. Its mission is “to inspire students to pursue their interests,
find their voices, and tell their stories.”
At various festivals throughout the summer of 2013, poet/writer
Stephanie Brea assisted other LAB staff and volunteers in the collection of poems
about Pittsburgh from people of all ages across the city, with the goal of
collecting at least 20 poems at each event, integrating them into the LAB
archives and social media, and featuring them in a final publication. The hope
was that the collected poems and audio recordings would ultimately populate
interactive maps and archives in physical and digital realms.
Following is Blast Furnace’s interview with Stephanie about the Pittsburgh Poems Project.
What is your background?
Greensburg, Pennsylvania. I went to college at Arizona State and then the University
of Pittsburgh-Greensburg. I studied English with a concentration in Creative
Writing at Marymount Manhattan in New York, New York. When I was in high school
there was a visiting writer who was giving a two-day workshop. I signed up,
learned more about writing, read poems, gave feedback [on other’s writing]…it
was empowering; it changed everything for me. If not for that I’d still be that
girl writing in her Moleskin notebooks. Many years later, I had the opportunity
to return to my high school as the visiting writer and run a similar workshop.
When I saw the impact that I could have by providing the same access and
opportunities, and that I could foster the same enthusiasm for creative writing,
I was hooked.
What is your connection with the LAB?
I’m an independent
contractor-volunteer who assists with the development and implementation of activities
and lesson plans The LAB has been in existence for two years now, Paula Levin
is [Lead Experimentalist] there.
What is the Pittsburgh Poems Project?
It’s a web-based
project that was collaborative. Paula Levin’s vision was to modify one of the
in-classroom Pittsburgh Poems lesson plans into a more mobile, interactive
summer project. The plan was to make an online or Google map viewable on a
computer or mobile phone. Grant funding for it was provided by the Grable
Foundation. [The Pittsburgh Poems Project] was loosely inspired by author RichardPrice’s quote, ‘Where you’re from is the zip code of your heart.’
What did the project entail?
We spent all
summer soliciting poems from a wide range of age groups and neighborhoods Poems
were submitted on notecards and we had a teen editorial board comprised of high
school students who narrowed the submissions down to one hundred poems of
different themes and forms, and from people of a variety of ages and from
diverse neighborhoods. After LAB volunteers transcribed the poems from the
notecards into a digital file, I focused on the selection and order of the
poems, while Paula focused her time and efforts on the design of the map-poetry
We wanted to
prove that everybody has a poem about Pittsburgh and could write a poem about
Pittsburgh. The youngest submitter was three and the oldest was over eighty.
The Pittsburgh Poetry Project map-poetry booklet
What was the end result?
We solicited poems
at various locations throughout the city, including “Unblurred” First FridayGallery Crawl in Garfield, the Mini Maker Faire, and 91.3 WYEP FM radio’s Summerfest.
The actual reading of the poems took place at the East End Book Exchange in
Bloomfield. We sold the map-poetry booklet for two dollars each to cover the
cost of printing, and different venues sold them, too, as well as Karen Lillis,
who took them to local book fairs as part of her pop-up bookstand.
The order of
the poems in the map-poetry booklet was carefully chosen by the editorial
board. The numbers assigned to each poem
correspond to the order in which the poems were received. This number
functioned as an identifier for the poem and poet, so the numbers on the map
indicated the approximate neighborhood where the specific poet lived, with the
poet sometimes giving input on a possibly more appropriate location for the
number of their poem on the map based on its content.
Is there a plan for another Pittsburgh Poems
In the future
we may do audio poems, which would take more money and technology. We might do
a second edition. We want to be able to eliminate the need to transcribe poems
from the notecards, and have people contribute directly to the digital archive.
This first time doing the project we learned what worked and the challenges. We
hope to do it again!
Editor’s Note: The LAB is now housed at the Union Project, a community space in
East Liberty (http://www.unionproject.org).
Following are just ten selections of the many included in the Pittsburgh Poetry
Neighborhood: Troy Hill
Where the ghosts of my
ancestors mingle with
Carnegie and Frick
Neighborhood: Polish Hill
The city shines out across the
water like promise itself,
a flaming white love letter to work-worn
a cannon-fired kiss aimed at
and I say to it, "I love you
Neighborhood: Mt. Lebanon
looks like endless winding
streets cramped with cars
smells like french fries wafting
out of the tailgater’s cars.
sounds like cars vrooming, people
talking, stadiums cheering