A poem for the future is growing from the stones of a canal path in the center of an old Dutch city. The literary creation, called “De Letters van Utrecht,” is being written one character at a time, block by block, one letter per week.
A kind of “social sculpture,” The Letters of Utrecht is a 21st century project intended to expend into the 22nd, the 23rd, and on and on… to wrap around the city for as long as its residents support it. The lines are being written by a changing roster of Utrecht’s Guild of Poets (so far there have been seven), the words known only to the next writer’s imagination.
The project was started in 2012, but in order to pinpoint an easy start date, the first 648 blocks were laid out and back-dated to January 1, 2000. Since its inception, every Saturday a stone mason has pulled the next stone from the border of the canal path, in order for the current poet to inscribe a letter. It takes months, but words slowly begin to appear, and with each year the verses will continue to wind through the streets.
The project is supported by the city, so with enough funding the poem will continue for as long as there are Saturdays, until the end of the future.
The full text, so far, can be found here in the original Dutch. Roughly translated, in English it reads:
You have to start somewhere to give the past a place, the present is getting less and less. The further you are, the better. Go ahead now,
Leave your tracks. Forget the flash in which you may exist, the world is your street plan. Was there a time when you were another: it went by.
You are the other though. You are, as you know, the spell of this story. This is eternity. It takes. It’s time. Therefore, go into your story and swallow. Tell.
Tell us who you are with each step. In our story we disappear naturally, and only you remain in the long run. You and these letters, which are cut out of stone. Like the letters on our grave.
They burst into the Dom. Raised to the sky like an index finger, to indicate the guilty and demand more time. So we can go up straight, like people along the canal.
Stare at their feet. Look up! See Utrecht’s churches protruding above ground level. Raise the hands, begging with the towers to be this privilege: to be, now. The weather is nice.
Stand on. Life is witness to your gaze on the horizon. Your footsteps …
Know Before You Go
The beginning of the poem is at the corner of and Lange Smeestraat and Oudegracht (the Old Canal) at #279.