The noisy poetics of community building
May 26, 2017
Toot toot hey beep beep – it’s catchy as a little song hook for Donna Summer’s classic “Bad Girls.” Anyone who’s ever resided in a place like New York City, though, knows car horns are a little less appealing when you’re trying to catch a few zzzzs. What can you do? Get mad, obviously.
That’s what Aaron Naparstek did before he decided to get a little more creative with his automotive angst. He wrote a little verse in a 5- 7- 5-syllable format and took some liberties with the classic Japanese form we know as haiku. He printed out 50 copies. He went around his neighborhood hanging them on lamp posts. It was a walking meditation of sorts that felt, at worst, less destructive than that time he egged a guy’s car in a fit of rage. He kept it up, night after sleepless night.
Before long, and to his great surprise, “honku” poems by other anonymous authors began to appear on those signposts. So he made a website and posted the URL on his new editions and created a digital space called “The Lampost” that went on to become an online forum for him and his neighbors. Before long, they decided to (finally!) meet in real life. And, before long again, they showed up at a government meeting where a city councilman named Bill de Blasio addressed the crowd wielding a piece of paper bearing the Honku organization’s letterhead. The now-mayor took on the neighbors’ cause at that time, and enacted a police patrol intervention that worked! For a while.
The city being what it is, the honking returned. But in the meantime, one person wrote three lines that got neighbors to finally introduce themselves and work on an issue they all had a stake in. You can hear Mr. Naparstek expertly tell his story on The Moth podcast. You’re sure to be inspired to seek out creative solutions to shared problems and to appreciate the many organic ways a community can define its character and strengthen itself from within. To us, that’s poetry in motion:
You from New Jersey
honking in front of my house
in your SUV
– Aaron Naparstek