Volunteer Spotlight: Mem Lloyd and the Poetry Park

Be inspired by one of the artist-gardeners behind the Phalen Poetry Park.

Mem Lloyd is a clay artist and teacher who helped create the East Side Arts Council, along with several other movers and shakers: Sarah Fehr, Romi Slowiak, and Kitty Anderson. The idea of creating a poetry park started as a brainchild of Romi Slowiak in the early 1990s and became a reality in 1998. The park’s goals are to create an artistic community space, promote individual writers and foster an audience for literature.

Tell us about the Poetry Park.

It goes back to the beginnings of the Arts Council, when we, as community members, saw a lot happening with sports in our parks, but not so much with the arts. I got a grant to start an art club at Wilder Rec Center and then our gang of four got things going on other arts programming, including the Poetry Park.

As is often the case with community gardens, we had a crew of non-expert volunteers, including myself, and no money except for a few grants, but it turned out amazingly well. We built a dragon garden and scavenged for stones that helped to define the dragon’s body as well as stepping stones in a pea gravel river. We also salvaged some old window frames in the shape of sails to make the first Poet’s Post. Eventually, we replaced that post with the metal post that you see today. In addition, we’ve had several unique “poetry benches,” including playable marimba benches as well as concrete benches in the shape of large books.

You’ve been involved since the beginning. How has this work brought you joy?

People need a calm place to get mentally refreshed, which is what Poetry Park has become. During Covid, it was such a haven for families to play or just sit and enjoy.

This park garden is a wonderful gathering place. It is immensely gratifying to see our vision come to life. You can see upcoming poetry events, like our forthcoming poetry reading on Sept 25 at 3:00 pm. There have even been weddings there.

I’m a visual artist – I don’t think of myself as a gardener at all. However, I have loved working with people, both gardeners and non-gardeners, to make an excellent, creative green space in our city. Kids don’t always see the garden as a dragon, but they imagine all kinds of things. Some kids refer to it as the fairy garden.

When I work in the garden, I love learning the stories of the people who stop to talk and ask questions. I’ve heard many “poet confessions” from people who say, “I don’t talk about it, but I do write some poetry.”

You’ve helped create a place of inspiration and creativity. What does the Poetry Park need to keep it vital?

Volunteers of all kinds are so important, and they often have new ideas for the garden. For example, we recently had a volunteer who donated a large number of bulbs and went to great lengths to keep them from being eaten by critters. As a result, the flowers were so wonderful in the spring.

We want to keep re-imagining the dragon. There may be ways to make the head of the dragon more “dragony,” for instance.

You don’t have to know plants or art – we’ll take anyone! We can use help keeping the painted stones looking good, sweeping the path, and helping keep the poems on the Poet’s Post as they tend to fly off.

Inspired? If you would like to help at the Poetry Park, the weekly gardening session is Wednesday evenings from 6–8 pm. Please join, whenever you can, to weed and water the garden or read a poem to the gardeners.

Besides our scheduled work times, you are invited to do some guerilla gardening, that is, choose a small section of the garden to weed and/or water on your own time. Please email the Program Coordinator at esac@eastsideartscouncil.org or call (651) 774-5422 for questions or sign up to help!