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The Pleasant Surprise Beneath Your Feet: The Origin of “Wandering Words”

The Poetic Pathways of Muscatine!

April is the month to celebrate poetry, and guess what? Muscatine is hosting its annual  “Wandering Words” poetry contest, courtesy of the Muscatine  County Art Council. It’s the perfect opportunity to let your creativity flow, express your thoughts, and captivate hearts through your own!

Juan Fourneau’s 2023 poem is at the corner of 5th Street and Mulberry Avenue, near El Olmito Mexican Restaurant. (Annette Hovland )

In 2016, David Ales, a founding member of the Muscatine County Arts Council, discovered a sidewalk poetry project during his visit to Northfield, Minnesota. Inspired by this unique idea, he brought it back to Muscatine and introduced a partnership between the Arts county and the city of Muscatine to sponsor the “Wandering Words” poetry contest.

 It has been nine years since Muscatine started hosting “Wandering Words.” Isn’t that incredible? A single event has become such a beloved tradition in the community, showcasing talent and creativity.

“We want the community to be able to enjoy these works of art for many years to come,” Annette Hovland (MCAC Member)

Marianna Haas’ poem at Musser Public Library, 408 East Second Street (2018)

The good news to these contestants is that there is no required theme! The contest itself is a blind-judging process that ensures that everyone has a fair chance. Many people have written about the town itself, friends and family, or nature. Judges choose up to five poems per year. As of now, there are around forty poems engraved on the sidewalks of Muscatine. The only rules that contestants are required to follow are matching up with submission guidelines and making sure the poem is appropriate for the community!

The winners of the contest not only receive a $50 reward but also have the honor of having their winning poem engraved in Muscatine County! 

Muscatine’s partnerships with  engraving companies such as, J & D Stones, and Kelley’s Stone Engraving of Cedar Rapids bring the poems to life.  Jeff and Deanna Hargrave, and brothers Noah and Payton Kelly use their craft to bring light to communities.

“Members of the Arts Council receive comments from residents and visitors about the pleasant surprise of discovering the poems when they walk, shop or visit businesses downtown. It is gratifying to see people stop and take time to read a poem and then walk away smiling,” stated Annette Hovland (MCAC member).

This contest is not limited to the city of Muscatine,. All residents of Muscatine County are welcome to participate. The Muscatine County Arts Council is planning to have poems etched into the sidewalks of towns within the County, like West Liberty, and Wilton.

“We believe the arts play a strong role in maintaining a vibrant and interesting community by enriching the lives of Muscatine County’s citizens and visitors”

— Muscatine County Arts Council Mission Statement


   Want to keep up?

Here are some ways to keep up with  “Wandering Words!” 


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Kelsy Esmoil
Kelsy Esmoil, Writer
MHS / 2026'
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