Once I was making my way down through the Oudegracht in direction to Ledig Erf and I you found some peculiar letters written on the stones of the sidewalk. I was so intrigued that I decided to solve this mistery! Follow me on this journey through The Letters of Utrecht! What are The Letters of Utrecht? These letters on the side walk are part of a project called “De Letters Van Utrecht“, whose goal is to write the longest outdoor poetry piece in the world.
A new letter is added every Saturday, thus poetically enough, the poem grows around the city and with it. The form of the poem itself is supposed to write the word “Utrecht” across the city as you can see in the map. Since it takes about three years to publish an average sentence, the poem grows approximately 5 meters annually. Only the collocation of the cobblestones that comprehend the letters “U” and “T” have been planned – and it is estimated they will be finished in 2350!
The inauguration took place in 2012, but, preceding the official start of the project, 648 stones had been previously laid down to pretend that it started in the begging of 2000. The idea is that, since the moment of the inauguration, a new stone is added every week and that this stone is sponsored by someone. The initials of the sponsor can be marked in a non visible part of the stone, so they will forever be part of the cultural identity of Utrecht. This is a way to engage citizens to be part of this social sculpture. It is also a socially conscious project: 10% of the 100 euros that it costs to sponsor a stone go to charity.
The name of the project “The Letters of Utrecht” is also a word-play as the letters that are being laid down for the poem will write letters in the big scale too,(as seen on the map) and they are the letters of the word “Utrecht”! There is also a reference in the name to the original letters that gave city rights to Utrecht and that date from 1122.
This was the planned route for the poem in 2012. There were already letters ion the red dots and the route reads “UT” around the streets.The poems that are featured are written by poets that are originally from Utrecht. They feature themes like the passing of time and our place in it, how it is so everlasting and ephemeral at the same time. So far, this is how the poem goes (each paragraph was written by a different poet):
“You have to start somewhere to deal with the past, the present is less and less important.
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 map.
Was there a time when you were another: it passed.
You are already the other. You are, as you know, the key figure of this story. This is eternity. It lasts.
It has time.
Go into your story and swell. 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.
The cracks in the Dom. Plunged into the sky like an index finger,
to indicate the guilty and demand more time.
So we can go up straight, like people along the Gracht.
Who stares 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.
Keep staring. Life is witness of your gaze on the horizon. Your footsteps
connect the pa(st)…” (Note: the word is not finished, but it’s going to say ‘verleden’ which means ‘past’)
Translation by Marjolein van den Brand.
A very interesting feature of this project is that the poem will grow slower than the average pace of evolution of a language, so it will track the evolution of the Dutch language too!
The goal of “The Letters of Utrecht” is to leave a cultural legacy for future generations which they can be part of, too. It acknowledges the people from the present and it relies on the people of the future to exist. It’s a living and breathing peace of art of which we all can be part of.
If you want to know more information about this project, check out the official webpage: De Letters Van Utrecht.