Boston’s Sidewalks Reveal Secret Poems When It Rains

CC BY 2.0. Claudia Dea

Forecast: cloudy with a chance of poetry? Invisible verse sees the light of day during drizzly weather.

Street art adds spark and creativity to sometimes bleak urban environments; meanwhile, graffiti damages property and is a sign of blight to many. But what if you could leave your mark in invisible ink?

A public art project by Mass Poetry, in collaboration with The City of Boston, is doing just that. Launched in honor of National Poetry Month, “Raining Poetry” is a series of poems stenciled throughout the city’s sidewalks. The spray used to write the poems is invisible; when the surrounding pavement is darkened by rain, the dry words emerge and treat pedestrians to the secret poems that quietly wait to be read.

The concept for this magic pluvial street art is the brainstorm of Seattle (naturally) resident Peregrine Church. Upon viewing a viral video of superhydrophobic coatings in action – like clothing treated with the water-repellant coating in which red wine would literally roll right off – he had an idea: Rain-activated street art. He began stenciling messages across Seattle’s stormy sidewalks with a superhydrophobic spray, and even did a (successful) Kickstarter to start producing Rainworks spray, the product that Boston is using.

Church says that Rainworks is biodegradable, environmentally friendly and completely non-toxic. (The site notes that the superhydrophobic coating is solvent-based – once sprayed the solvent evaporates, leaving only the biodegradable ingredients “locked inside the surface.” No mention of what exactly the solvent is.) On average, a Rainwork-scrawled message lasts 2 to 4 months.

For the initial Boston rain-triggered poetry parade, Boston's Poet Laureate, Danielle Georges, selected four poems of four poets – Langston Hughes, Elizabeth McKim, Barbara Helfgott Hyett, and Gary Duehr – all of whom have Boston ties.

"With Raining Poetry, we are able to bring more poetry into the everyday lives of the unsuspecting," says Georges.

It's all so meta, the poetry of poems emerging with the rain. And with nothing to clean up after, all that remains is the lasting impact of ephemeral words finding light on gloomy days.

New York Magazine made a video: