Chattanooga artist explores the evolution of compassion in the Deep South - starting with her own

Since 2018, Meredith Garrett, known as the "River City Street Poet," has written nearly 500 on-the-spot poems throughout Chattanooga. / Photo by Allison Kendrick

At the Chattanooga Market, dressed in her Sunday best, Meredith Garrett sat at her typewriter. Next to her, a small vintage trunk lay open, displaying crumpled bills and a wooden sign, which read "poet for hire."

Known as the "River City Street Poet," since 2018 Garrett has written nearly 500 poems for strangers across Chattanooga. Before COVID-19, she could regularly be found at coffee shops, the market or the Walnut Street Bridge. Typewriter in tow, she would invite curious onlookers to give her a topic, which she'd then turn into an on-the-spot poem.

Love and heartbreak are the two most common subjects, says Garrett, though they've ranged from the weather to mental illness.

Her exchanges with those who stop are brief - typically 15 minutes or less - but, she says, "those few minutes are oddly intimate.