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Hidden poetry 'You can only discover on purpose' turns project into passion for Michigan artist

Gabrielle Eisma decided to turn the city of Grand Rapids, Mi. into a canvas. She stamped poems written by classmates into hard-to-find places around town.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — You know that feeling when you find something that you weren't really looking for? 

An art student in Grand Rapids has made the city her canvas to share her classmate's poetry, but finding her work will require one to really pay much closer attention to their surroundings.

"I like an intimate interaction with my art," said Gabrielle Eisma, who is a junior BFA in Studio Art and writing double major at Calvin University. "I wanted [my project] to be something that maybe was an art that didn't need to be seen."

In a typical year, one where COVID-19 isn't forcing students to have to study remotely, they'd be creating their graphic design projects for an indoor gallery space, but because nobody can gather, Eisma decided to think outside the box.

She wanted people to discover things.

Her project, called 'Re:ground,' has been described as a 'poetic geo-caching experience.' She enlisted 16 local artists, mostly comprised of Calvin University professors and fellow students, to write poetry with the voice behind it speaking for the ground beneath our feet.

Once Eisma had all 16 poems in hand, she decided to take her college project a step further. She took the poems, along with a hammer, sitting mat and a set of 1/8" die stamps, and set out on a 'poetry pilgrimage,' stamping each poem into locations within nature.

Credit: 13 ON YOUR SIDE
From parks to parking lots, to culverts, gardens and playgrounds, Gabrielle Eisma's poetry art is there, but if you're not looking, you won't find it.
Credit: 13 ON YOUR SIDE
From parks to parking lots, to culverts, gardens and playgrounds, Gabrielle Eisma's poetry art is there, but if you're not looking, you won't find it.
Credit: 13 ON YOUR SIDE
From parks to parking lots, to culverts, gardens and playgrounds, Gabrielle Eisma's poetry art is there, but if you're not looking, you won't find it.

She stamped a poem on a a dock overlooking a lake by her house. She also engraved one on the inside wall of a culvert, as well as on a piece of wood attached to a silo near the Gypsum Mine in Grand Rapids.

"I wanted to put myself in each poet's shoes and experience the poem that they've written," said Eisma. "I think if you were on a hike and you accidentally discovered a poem written on a tree, you'd likely be way more interested to stop and read it than if you read one in a book.

"You might reflect on what it means for you in that place, how it got there, are there more or is this alone."

Eisma says if people find her poems, it'll more than likely be by accident.

"There has to be something within that's needing to discover something," added Eisma. "If people do find one, I can't wait to hear about it."

16 stamped poems can be found around West Michigan near random parks and parking lots, gardens and playgrounds and on a few felled trees.

"I think I'm comfortable with the fact that each place I stamped a poem now has a voice," said Eisma. "I also hope that the people who saw [a poem] were the ones that needed to see it.

"And even if I end up being the only person who sees them, I think that still makes it worth it."

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