Young San Jose Poets Urge Us All to Pick Up That Trash, Pretty Please

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San Jose’s Public Art and Environmental Services departments co-sponsored an environmental poetry contest in local middle and high schools, and put the winning 10 poems on trash cans around the city, pretty visualized by San Jose artist Carlos Perez. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

The idea is so obvious and clever, you wonder why this kind of thing isn’t everywhere: children’s poems about our troubled planet, urging us to keep it clean. Or cleaner, anyways. Starting with litter.

Kerry Adams Hapner, Cultural Affairs Director for San Jose, explained that Litter-atureas the program is called, cultivated then featured 10 winning poems on 500 trash cans in 17 different business improvement districts around the city,

"We have a call to action. It's our youth that recognizes we have to change. Otherwise, we're going to lose different parts of this beautiful earth."

"Please" and "This" by Ishani Cheshire, 12th Grade
"Please" and "This" by Ishani Cheshire, 12th Grade (Photo: Courtesy of San Jose)

Hundreds of middle and high school students sent in more than 300 short poems. Then, a panel of judges led by Santa Clara County’s Poet Laureate Mike McGee sorted through all of it: thoughtful, anguished, half-hearted, even funny.

"We sweated over the fact we could only pick 10. It was really hard," he said, adding, "Kids are thinking about their environment, because they’re seeing adults not doing anything about it."


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Ouch, but fair point.

San Jose artist Carlos Pérez, who made his name designing the first logo for Apple back in 1977, helped to make the poems pop visually with dreamy, ecologically evocative graphics, printed on aluminum sides that wrap the trash cans.

"I felt the spirit of each one and created an image behind it. We wanted to keep the images supportive but quiet, so that the poetry would come through," Pérez said.

"If you look really closely at the art, there's a lot happening in it," said McGee. "He has a great way of taking the words he's given and then applying colors to them."

"Summer is hotter" by Ethan Xie, 11th Grade
"Summer is hotter" by Ethan Xie, 11th Grade (Photo: Courtesy of San Jose)

Winning poets got gift certificates to the bookseller Barnes and Noble, recognition from the city, of course, and glossy booklets of their poems designed by Pérez.

Litter-ature is an eminently Instagramable spin on the one-day litter cleanups you usually see on Earth Day. With these cans, there’s no excuse! Pick up that trash, people, and put it where it belongs! Whether you snap a selfie while doing it is up to you.