Poetry project celebrates Pittsburgh’s public stairways
To Paola Corso, Pittsburgh’s iconic steps are more than concrete blocks piled on top of one another. They can take people places, connecting the past to the present and into the future.
Made by immigrants and used by them, their children and others who will come after them, Corso wanted to tell their story.
“These aren’t just steps,” says Corso, an author, artist, photographer, former Valley News Dispatch reporter and Highlands High School graduate who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“They are a theater space. I see them as vertical bridges that connect the landscapes. They can be a connection with each other. They can be a middle ground to meet and bring people together.”
Taking the first steps
Fueled by this passion, Corso, the daughter of an Italian immigrant father, took the next step and teamed with artist Andy Edwards of Aspinwall to co-found “Steppin Stanzas,” a grant-awarded poetry project celebrating Pittsburgh’s public stairways.
With a seed grant from The Sprout Fund, they produced a short video, “On the Way Up: City Steps, City Immigrants,” which honors early immigrants who built the city’s public stairways, those who care for them and new immigrants to Pittsburgh who have made the city their home.
The film will be shown from 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on the South Side.
“The steps represent immigrants of then and now and the future,” says Edwards, whose sons Kai and Annon will be at the library event. Kai Edwards will address the guests. “These steps are so important to Pittsburgh. My wife is from Japan and she became a U.S. citizen, and that was a major step for her,” he adds.
Corso’s idea came when she took part in the cleanup of steps on Troy Hill. As she was picking up trash, she looked down and saw the river. She saw the landing between the sets of steps as a stage.
Corso and Edwards incorporated performances into the video that will be shown Oct. 6, which include poetry readings as well as belly dance artist Sahra DeRoy, percussionist Koku Kuwanu, poet Christine Telfer and performers Maria Laranginho and Keiko Maeda. The music for the film was done by Aaron Lefebvre. Emmy-winning documentarian and producer Michael DiLauro directed the piece.
It was filmed on Oakley Way Mosaic Steps during the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association’s Pittsburgh StepTrek.
After the screening, Steppin Stanzas will hold a panel discussion with artists and several guest speakers who appear in the video: Bob Regan, the author of two books about Pittsburgh’s steps; Joe Balaban, a neighborhood steps activist; and Feyisola Akintola of Welcoming Pittsburgh.
“We are so excited to host this film screening,” says Suzy Waldo, library services manager for the South Side branch. “More than any other branch in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh South Side was responsible for helping the city’s immigrant community acclimate to life in the U.S.”
Waldo says when the branch opened in 1909, more than 60% of the neighborhood’s population was foreign-born.
“We are thrilled to host the film screening and look forward to celebrating the immigrants who built Pittsburgh’s unique city steps,” Waldo says.
Where it started
“Steppin Stanzas” launched in 2016 at Pittsburgh’s StepTrek on the South Side Slopes with performances of artists who recited poems inspired by the steps.
“It is wonderful to bring poetry to the people and for them to not have to come to a stage or theater to listen to it,” Corso says.
“It is a way of paying tribute to the immigrants who built the steps. Through the process I discovered my grandfather had built steps and my father took steps to his work as a steel worker in Brackenridge,” says Corso.
Corso has written several books with one scheduled for release in early 2020. “Vertical Bridges: Poems, Essays, and Photographs of City Steps” is a mix of poetry and poetic imagery.
She is planning a book release and photo exhibit inside the Oakmont Carnegie Library’s gallery space in April.
The event is free. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is located at 2205 East Carson St., South Side.
Details: 412 431-0505
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .