A Philly coffee shop is serving up orders with a side of poetry

The six-month-long project seeks to offer a moment of “surprise and delight.”

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Through April 2023, Elixr Coffee is printeing poems on their beverage sleeves. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Through April 2023, Elixr Coffee is printeing poems on their beverage sleeves. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Customers who walk into one of Philadelphia’s Elixr Coffee shops and order a beverage will receive a sweet surprise: a poem wrapped around the corrugated sleeve that holds their warm cup of coffee or tea.

The poetry is part of a six-month-long public art initiative befittingly called “Heart on Your Sleeve.”

“We just wanted to have that moment of surprise, delight, and poetry in people’s hands as they go into the day … bring it to people in their everyday lives,” said project co-curator Molly Gross.

Heart on Your Sleeve co-curators Molly Gross (left) and Ryan Strand Greenberg at Elixr in Center City. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Launched in November 2022, the project aims to highlight local poets while bringing the medium to the masses. When the team behind Heart on Your Sleeve was developing the concept coming out of the height of the pandemic, it ruminated on how it felt, and what it needed.

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“Care [was] really high up there,” said Gross. “How do we care for one another, how do we show up for each other, what we can bring into the world, and what do we want to see in the world?”

They also reflected on wintertime and the approaching spring season.

For the project, as the months have changed, so have the poems affixed to Elixr’s coffee sleeves.

Poetry by Husnaa Haajarah Hashim is featured on the sleeves at Elixr in Center City for the month of March 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

So far, Philly-area poets Sojourner Ahébée, Dilruba Ahmed, Sham-e-Ali Nayeem, and Ursula Rucker have had their words adorn the recycled cardboard.

The featured poet for the month of March is former Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate and recent University of Pennsylvania graduate Husnaa Haajarah Hashim.

For the 23-year-old, “it’s really exciting” to have her words be read by people who may not otherwise come across them. “The poetry scene in Philly is amazing and really community-oriented. It’s nice to be included in a project that is centering good friends and also folks that I don’t know,” Hashim added.

Hashim, who has been writing since she was 10, wrote the poem featured in the Heart on Your Sleeve collection as she was about to graduate from college. At the time, she was weighing on “emerging from the slumber of winter” and “into the world.”

Poet Husnaa Haajarah Hashim stands in doorway of Elixr in Center City, where her poem is printed on the door. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“I really do want to feel free in my life and get lost in freedom and in a way that I feel like it’s difficult to do as an adult,” Hashim said. She hopes the poem prompts people to “feel connected to their inner child.”

In addition to the coffee sleeves, Hashim’s poem graces the front door of Elixr’s coffee shop on South Sydenham Street, lending credence to the poet’s belief that poetry is “one of the most accessible art forms.”

Hashim appreciates the intentionality of the poem’s door placement, she said, “because someone doesn’t have to come into the space or purchase anything in order to receive it.”

‘Kind of magical’

Heart on Your Sleeve is part of Elixr’s larger art program, which was established in 2012.  Heart on Your Sleeve received additional funding and marketing support from The Poetry Project in New York City.

Ryan Strand Greenberg, who has worked for Elixr for many years and who curates alongside Gross, wanted to do something special for the 10th-anniversary celebration that highlights visual artists, designers, and poets — “kind of mixing up the diversity of thought and practice,” he explained.

That’s how the project became a collaboration with other artists, on top of the featured poets.

The six sleeves were created by designer Jonai Gibson-Selix and printmaker Hester Stinnnet. As part of the project, artist Destiny Palmer was commissioned to create an installation that is now a part of Elixr’s Center City location. And a limited-edition T-shirt with the poets’ names can be purchased through Philadelphia Printworks. A portion of the proceeds from T-shirts sold go to Harriett’s Bookshop, a Fishtown bookstore that celebrates Black women authors and artists.

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Poetry by Destiny Palmer o the wall at Elixr coffeeshop in Center City. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The project’s interdisciplinary approach has been fruitful, said Greenberg. But at the end of the day, the project is all about connecting people with art. He says some people intentionally seek the poems out. Others simply stumble upon them.

Either is wonderful to witness, Greenberg said.

“I think it’s awesome when there’s people with deep knowledge of poetry, people who might be reading their first poem, being able to experience something simultaneously,” said Greenberg. “That’s kind of magical.”

Poet HHusnaa Haajarah Hashim holds a cup from Elixr Coffee in Center City, where her poem is printed on the beverage sleeves. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Heart on Your Sleeve project runs through the end of April, which happens to be National Poetry Month. The next featured poet will be Eleanor Wilner.

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