Upon arrival in Atlanta in 2020 I decided to plunge into an epic poem about the Atlanta Beltline. I researched the history of this former 22 mile train line, with an emphasis upon issues of social justice and border-crossing. Then, after a year or so, I sat down (but also biked and hiked and roller skated and recorded interviews) en route to a 68 page poem about a Lord Byron-inspired poet named George who wanders the Beltline in its entirety, and tells stories based on what he experiences.
I undertook the project ‘par l’amour de l’art’, but noted that the Arts on the Beltline offers grants for artists, so I decided to enter my work into the Arts on the Beltline competition, which I received last year (https://art.beltline.org/art/robert-f-barsky/). I also asked two artists, a local Atlanta friend (Susan Ker-Seymer), and a student (Lauren McKee) if they’d like to contribute drawings/paintings. Susan began painting abstract Beltline-inspired works, and Lauren sketched a whole series of pictures of what our poet George might look like. A kind of lovable every-person, he is named after George Gordon Lord Byron. George is inspired by great literary quests from the likes of Homer, Chaucer, Cervantes, Byron, and all the way up to Blaise Cendrars, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. He (like me!) wanders the Beltline with his head filled with verse, and his eyes and ears wide open to the experiences of this amazing trail.
The project inspired me to think about a digital space for the poem as well as images and performances connected to it. I direct an online journal that follows in the footsteps of www.ameriquests.org, which I created 20 years ago. My new journal goes beyond narrative, and emphasizes art and border-crossing. Located at MIT, and hosted by the Knowledge Futures Group, this journal, called Contours Collaborations, is now in its 4th year. This Beltline Chronicles project gave me the opportunity to create a new digital site to host details of the poem. The entire poem is on a dedicated Contours Collaborations site, connected by QR codes on the Atlanta Beltline signs (https://contours.pubpub.org/beltline-chronicles).
And finally, my Arts on the Beltline grant provided me with the resources to post gorgeous Chromolux-mounted metal signs with excerpts of the poem. The first 4 installations have just been mounted on the Eastside and the Westside of the Beltline, open to pages of the book and revealing excerpts of the poem. The project continues, and the text and images are on this pubpub site!