July 1, 2013
Jessy Randall remembers the moment she got the call saying that her poetry was being featured halfway around the world.
"My jaw just dropped," the Rochester, N.Y., native said.
Soon, she began to speculate about the placement. "On the side of a truck? I couldn't picture what it was going to be," said Randall, who's served as the archivist and curator of special collections at Colorado College's Tutt Library for 12 years.
Street cleaners and poets may live worlds apart, but in Sydney, Australia, the two come together in an affinity for clean prose.
Randall's poem is one of 19 pasted on 11 street cleaning trucks for this year's Sydney Writers' Festival.
Other poets featured on the trucks include former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, W.B. Yeats, John Berryman, Rainer Maria Rilke and some Australian poets.
Luke Davies, an award-winning Australian poet, chose poems for the trucks "that stop you in your tracks, and are utterly unlike the advertising copy that litters the verbal landscape," according to the festival's website.
Having poetry - pasted 61/2 feet by 31/2 feet - on the side of an Australian sanitation truck helps people to avoid treating poetry in an "exalted way," Randall said, which she appreciates. For her, it incorporates poetry into everyday life. "You gotta clean a street, you gotta read a poem."
The selected poem, "Why I Had Children," is in her second poetry book, "Injecting Dreams into Cows," published last fall. Randall contributed poetry to another book and has also written many articles and given presentations on a variety of topics. She earned a bachelor's degree in English at Columbia University and a master of library science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Her work tends to use regular language and is connected to everyday life; emotional, but with a sense of humor, she says.
"The first time I read that poem out loud I choked up," she said, surprised with herself and instantly realizing that "this was a good one."
The poem originates out of her lonely motherhood experience.
"When I became a mother everything that I expected motherhood to be was right out the window," said Randall, mother of Celia, 9, and Will, 12. She wrote the poem around 2006 when one child was in diapers and motherhood was a "constant emergency."
"It was like finding out the truth about yourself in a terrible way," she said. "It's like you're ready to kill anyone who hurts that kid ... It's this violent, horrible thing," she continued, noting that motherhood was frightening and nothing like the happy parents always on TV.
Randall said that the poem has resonated with those who have heard it at public readings, with parents coming up afterward sharing their similar experiences. It has since become one of her go-to poems.
She is amazed that her work is now featured halfway around the world.
"It's very likely that this will be the pinnacle of my career, and that's A-OK with me," she added.
Connect on Twitter: @jessebyrnes