Watts Towers

I stumbled upon the Watts Towers several years ago, and it was love at first sight. This amazing large-scale work of art is a perfect illustration of the profound truth that there is great beauty to be found in things (not to mention people and places) that have been discarded or written off by a society that likes the shiny, the new and the whole.

My hope for my own art—and for my life, for that matter—is that I will develop the kind of eye for potential that Mr. Rodia exhibited. If I can recognize, embrace and celebrate unexpected beauty—and reflect back just a fraction of what I find—I will have done well, I think.

Though it feels presumptuous to attempt to describe something I admire and appreciate so much, I had to try…

The Towers of Simon Rodia

silver spires rise
stretching toward heaven
as though striving
to brush the cheek
of God

unwieldy scraps
of abandoned metal
have been coaxed into shape
fashioned together with utmost care
and precision
secured with mesh and wire
then cemented into one coherent
and breathtakingly lovely

fragments of tile and glass,
dishware and seashells—
detritus of earth and ocean—
and situated just so
absorb the rays of the sun
soften the light
and reflect it back
in a glowing declaration
that one person’s trash—
indeed, an entire society’s refuse—
may, in the right hands,
another’s treasure

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers



Greetings, and welcome to the inaugural Urban Verses blog post!

First things first, I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Alexis Spencer-Byers, and I am, among other things, a writer of poetry. My plan for this space is to use it to share some of those poems, in the hope that they may offer encouragement, enjoyment and/or thought-provocation to however many (or few) people stumble across them here.

Most of my adult life has been spent living and working in inner-city communities–largely in the nonprofit community development arena. For a while, it seemed that my English literature degree had no relevance to my life as it was unfolding, but then I discovered that poetry could serve as a way to capture and attempt to understand–if incompletely–some of the difficult, painful, beautiful, joyful and other kinds of moments that come with life in the city (and sometimes just life in general).

Writing “urban verses” quickly became the way I processed things I saw, heard, experienced and felt–and the way I communicated to others some of what was going on in my head and heart as I navigated a life marked by often-unorthodox choices. By way of example, and to really introduce myself, I give you this “oldie”:


They say I’m brave to live here—
A courageous soul, more so than most
And I believe that they intend it
As a compliment to me
But what they fail to understand
Is the grave insult implied
To those I choose to live among
If being their neighbor
Makes me a hero

Why should it be harder
For me to dwell beside
A family who differs from mine
In hue and size of paycheck
Than it is to share a street
With those who show no sympathy
For the differences and weaknesses
Of others?

What would they say
If they knew the truth—
That the suburbs with their perfect lawns
Their swimming pools and soccer moms
Terrify me
Far more than the dangers
(Real and alleged)
Of my beloved ’hood?
What would they say
If they discovered this fact—
That I am not brave at all
Just more at home
Where I can be
As broken as the next?