San Antonio’s newest park is poetry in motion

A small park on the city’s West Side puts poetry front and center.

By Jack Morgan, Texas Public RadioJune 21, 2023 9:47 am, ,

From Texas Public Radio:

Like some of San Antonio’s most interesting attributes — the River Walk, the Museum and Mission Reaches — its new little pocket park on the West Side started out with flood control.

It’s called Poet’s Point, and the little vest pocket park has a thematic twist.

On Saturday morning, about a hundred people showed up when then-interim District 7 City Councilperson Rosie Castro cut the ribbon to open the park to the public.

The birds and butterflies and wildflowers have already found the 1/3 acre triangular park. They were there in large numbers.

Artists Kim Bishop and partner Luis Valderas were the two lead artists of the new park. The poetic process for it becoming a park began about a hundred years ago with a land purchase by Edward Seeling.

“Mr. Seeling bought all this property up that was a dairy farm in the 1920s and started developing it,” Bishop said.

“And he put his three daughters, kind of, in charge of naming the streets, doing a lot of the design and coming up with these little pocket areas — these little triangles — to become community spaces for the people who live here.”

A look at the map northwest of Woodlawn Lake shows the middle class neighborhood with several triangular areas left when the curved streets were laid out.

Luis Valderas and Kim Bishop at the Whisper Bench.

Poet’s Pointe is a 1/3-acre triangle at Mistletoe, Emory and Magnolia Streets. The largest triangle about a mile away is Seeling Park, named after the family.

The neighborhood was nice, but Castro said when it rained really hard, there were big problems.

“Before there were flooding issues in the area. And this is what the bond issue was able to do to ameliorate some of those issues,” she said.

That 2017 Bond built a concrete flood channel from Seeling Park all the way to Woodlawn Lake. That flood channel routes the water away from the neighborhood streets and into Woodlawn Lake.

“This is the last of the projects of the 2017 bond issue in District 7,” Castro explained. “And as you could see, the city has really gone out to make this a beautiful space.”

Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio

Grand opening on Saturday morning.

Luis Valderas said that the concrete ditch replaced what was just a dirt ditch between roads.

“This was really kind of like a swamp, a drainage ditch. There wasn’t cement cladding. When all of that got removed, we felt that we needed to continue and keep some of that wildflower and fauna here,” Valderas said.

That’s where the aesthetics of artists came in. When the city of San Antonio creates projects, Bishop explained, they allot 1% of the cost toward public art.

“We signed the contract four years ago, and then we had a pandemic. So it kind of slowed things down,” she said. “But it gave Luis and I a chance to just walk almost every day because this is our community. We live here.”

They began to design the park, and they decided to enlist the help of the seven current and former poet laureates and seven artists who also live in this neighborhood.

During this time period, Octavio Quintanilla was poet laureate.

“[A]t the end of our time as poet laureate, we get the opportunity to do a legacy project,” he said. “And if San Antonio wants to be on top of its game, if it wants to be a leader, we need to do this type of spaces to show the world that we appreciate art.”

Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio

Former poet laureate Octavio Quintanilla speaking at the dedication.

Valderas said the park’s large center point is a curving 90-foot concrete and limestone bench within which seven poems and seven small artworks are embedded.

“The bench is facing these giant pop art sculptures that are in the shape of sheets of paper flying in the air, anchored by pens,” he said.

Those pens and sheets of paper are steel, with excerpted words from those seven poets cut through the steel.

“And we wanted them to be up in the sky so people could read them, and it could act like a sort of like a prayer. You look up into the sky and you hope for something that can bring us together,” he added.

They also provide immediate shade, an incredibly important part of parks in South Texas.

Bishop explained the enormous bench.

“Behind it, we built in a berm, a grassy berm. We planted three large oak trees that will grow up and over and bring shade to whoever sits along here,” she said.

Sixteen native trees were planted — Oaks and Sycamores for height and shade, and Desert Willows and Palos Verdes for their blooms.

“They’re low water trees. So they don’t need much water to survive, Valderas said. “The older trees — those are deep rooted trees that are legacy trees. So they can last long after we’re dead.”

The Department of Arts and Culture’s Krystal Jones said if residents visit the park before it gets too hot, they’ll see a wide array of native flowers in bloom.

“Our Parks and Recreation team cast a bit of seed. And then … a lot of these are just kind of popped up,” Jones said. “Luck of the draw with pollinators coming in, because there are a few that I do not believe Parks and Rec did plant.”

Kim Bishop and Luis Valderas

Poet Carmen Tafolla and Artist David Zamora Casas.

Meticulous planning went into the park, but Jones said the surprises can be nice, too.

“These are the things that I love. These things that you just pop up. They’re not planned,” she said.

The 90-foot bench also contains a sweet surprise. It’s a whisper bench. Those sitting at either end of that bench can actually have a conversation without raising their voices. Valderas said they were hoping for something like that but weren’t sure what to expect.

“Well, it’s the beauty of science working because the idea was to create something that has an acoustic effect,” he said.

So if you’ve written a poem and want to share it with others, this bench at Poet’s Pointe was made to help writers spread their words … truly poetry in motion.

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