UI students bring poetry to Iowa City bathrooms


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The newspapers, magazines, and hastily etched phrases in some Iowa City restroom stalls have been replaced by an unlikely stand-in: poetry.

Through an endeavor called Potty Mouths, a group of three creative-writing students at the University of Iowa hopes to make poetry accessible to every member of the community as well as add to Iowa City's image as a UNESCO City of Literature.


"The goal of the project, essentially, is to bring art to Iowa City patrons at a time and place that's convenient for them," said Kaylee Williams, one of the creators of Potty Mouth.

As a part of the project, poetry was posted with permission from the establishments in the restroom stalls of many downtown businesses and caf├ęs, Williams said.

And what started off as a project for a class has quickly launched into a community-wide endeavor.

"A big part of what we're doing is centered on the idea that poetry is an art form that is accessible to all people, not just to university folk. It's something we're trying to express to people and show them," Williams said. "Poetry is for everyone."

The project has been well-received by many members of the community.

"People in Iowa City and the community are getting excited about it. People are noticing," Williams said. "It's definitely grown bigger than us, and that's exactly the point. We want to engage people on a mass scale."

Kate Krohn, a 23-year-old poet in residence with the Working Group Theatre, said she was impressed with the project.

"I think that one of the things I've noticed since living here and becoming pretty entrenched in the community is that there is a divide between those who are interested in creating the written word," Krohn said. "It puts poetry in a practical place, making it more accessible."

Krohn said she also feels the project is revitalizing the art form.

"Poetry is such an odd, sort of alienable thing, and it is considered a dying art, but when you make it accessible, it becomes alive again," she said. "It ignites the life into poetry. It's reigniting the interest. It reinvigorates it, and it becomes something new."

For now, the stall poetry consists mainly of well-known writers and poets, but Williams said it's open to creative-writing students as well as members of the community.

But because this project is accessible by everyone, there are a few restrictions.

"We're just putting a cap on the vulgarity and the sexually explicit types of poetry," she said. "That's not to say we're not posting poetry that's not engaging, intellectual, and provocative, but we have to adhere because we know that children see this stuff."

And the group hopes to expand the project to include hotel bathrooms to provide people passing through Iowa City with a taste of the town's unique relationship with literature.

"I think it would show people from out of town what Iowa City is all about, what we take pride in, and what we value as a community," Williams said.

Zoe Mayberry, a recent UI graduate and an employee at Coldstone, said she feels the poem "The Emperor of Ice Cream," by Wallace Stevens, posted in the ice creamery's women's restroom fits the theme well.

"I think people focus a lot on different aspects, like newspapers and books, and I think poetry's lost a lot of the time," Mayberry said. "I think it's a good way and an unexpected way to bring it back."

Krohn said she believes poetry appeals to just about anyone.

"Everyone talks. Words are universal and appeal to everyone," she said. "Something you use every day and something you take for granted is something you can turn into art."

While some businesses decided to remove the poetry from the stalls, Williams said, they plan to be persistent in their endeavors.

"I'm surprised and a little appalled that the poetry got taken down," she said. "I think we're going to continue to go out, post, and just put them out there again."

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