As a gift to the city of Minneapolis for the New Year, the Twin Cities-based poetry film company commissioned Sparky Stories' filmmakers Nick and Chris Libbey to create a new motionpoem, "Steel & Air," for the untitled John Ashbery prose poem gracing the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge that connects the Walker's Sculpture Garden to Loring Park.
January 8, 2016

Still from the Motionpoem, Steel & Air, created by Sparky Stories' Chris and Nick Libbey based on an untitled prose poem by John Ashbery.

Anyone who has crossed the footbridge over I-94 between the Walker Sculpture Garden and Loring Park has read the prose poem there. Affixed in mailbox lettering along the topmost girder, one can’t help reading it as one traverses, looking up the whole way as the poem ladders forth in sections, in phrases, from approach to landing, the traffic rushing like a river below. Surely the poem calls forth different responses from everyone who reads it, but few are left untouched by its words, especially the last line—“and then it got very cool”—a line that departs from the poem so entirely it seems almost to peel from the blue and yellow enamel of the bridge and ascend into the atmosphere.

As a New Year’s gift to our city, Motionpoems—the world’s only poetry film company—hired local filmmakers Nick and Chris Libbey to adapt John Ashbery's untitled prose poem on the bridge into a short film. Here it is. A new approach and a new landing for a much-loved literary landmark.


And now I cannot remember how I would have had it. It is not a conduit (confluence?) but a place. The place, of movement and an order. The place of old order. But the tail end of the movement is new. Driving us to say what we are thinking. It is so much like a beach after all, where you stand and think of going no further. And it is good when you get to no further. It is like a reason that picks you up and places you where you always wanted to be. This far, it is fair to be crossing, to have crossed. Then there is no promise in the other. Here it is. Steel and air, a mottled presence, small panacea and lucky for us. And then it got very cool. 

—John Ashbery

Copyright © 1988, 1992, 2000, 2007 John Ashbery
First published in Hotel Lautréamont (Knopf, 1992)

Todd Boss is a poet, public artist and film producer in Minneapolis. His poetry collections are Pitch (2012, W. W. Norton) and Yellowrocket (2008). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Poetry, and NPR. He is the recipient of McKnight and Minnesota State Arts Board grants, the Midwest Booksellers’ Choice Award, and the Emily Clark Balch Prize from Virginia Quarterly Review. His large-scale public artworks include a 2012 installation in the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis to mark the 5th anniversary of the 35W Bridge collapse, and a block-wide projection of poetry films onto the 3D surface of Saint Paul’s historic Union Depot. He is the founding Executive and Artistic Director of Motionpoems, a nonprofit initiative that partners with major publishers and film companies to turn great contemporary poems into short films.




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