Reading the Small Print on Wearable Art

Would you wear a poem? Let’s step back— do you even read poetry? For the most part, you don’t often see poetry unless you purposely seek it out, either from a book or at an event where its being performed.  For Kitchener-based poet Taylor Small, this is all too familiar.

“Who is really reading poetry these days? People are either actively seeking it out because they want to read a poem, or not thinking about it,” Small said.

Small is passionate about writing and poetry, but until recently she did not put anything out into the world.

“I’ve been writing forever, since I was a kid, mostly short stories but poetry is what I really love doing,” Small explained. “I write a lot and keep it to myself but I started to feel that I had hit a wall.”

As a result, she went looking for a way to share her work, and to find an audience.

On its surface, the solution she came to seems simple. She would put her words on a shirt, for other people to wear. Small eloquently explained that this is an “exercise in vulnerability” for her art — a way to finally set it free.

Small acknowledged that this medium affords little control over the audience and how people will react, but simultaneously, it’s getting her poetry out there. She’s reaching larger audiences. She explained that the best possible outcome would be to start conversations.

“I’ve had people tell me that they connect with all kinds of different things,” Small said.

One poem in particular that can be seen on Small’s shirts is called “Survival Lessons.” This poem is displayed as a list of powerful insights about what it’s like to navigate the world through a feminist lens. According to Small, “Survival Lessons” is “a response to feeling kind of exhausted as a woman in the world and having to move through public space.” To Small, the shirt’s message is: I know where I’m at; don’t talk to me. Small says that she feels protected wearing these words and she hopes others will too.

Small went on to explain that most women are wary when they think about spaces they need to move through and clothing plays a major part in whether or not they feel safe.

“Is this going to be safe to wear in this space where I’m going for this time, around these people? The shirts are a response to that issue you face everyday when you open your closet,” she said.

For Small, the words are more accessible in this form. They can move through public spaces and perhaps force people to think, about the poetry or the messages they convey. She hopes the words on the shirts will start conversations between people.

You can find Small on Instagram using the handle @portmope, where she constantly posts photos of her work. She will also be a vendor at the upcoming Feminist Holiday Market on Nov. 24 in Guelph, where she will be unveiling a new shirt design and a few other exciting things she has been working on.