He has been called a vandal, a street artist, a post-Situationist, a punk artist and the text-art Banksy. Scottish poet Robert Montgomery has consciously made an “awkward space” for himself in between artistic categories – and he thoroughly enjoys it. His work puts poetry in front of people in eye-catching visual formats: from advertising billboards he has covered with poems, to words he has set on fire or lit with recycled sunlight in public spaces – including the Sussex seafront and a Berlin airport. Recently, he has been working on today’s World Poetry Day “Pay with a poem” campaign, through which customers can get coffee in exchange for poetry in cafes across the globe. Montgomery will then collect the public’s poems to create an installation in a secret location.
Londoners might remember his striking white type and black background from poems he installed on Shoreditch billboards in the days of the anti-Iraq war protests. The frustration around the war going ahead despite millions-strong protests is what prompted him to “go outside at night alone” to adorn his first billboard with a poem that started: “When we are sleeping,/ aeroplanes / carry memories / of the horrors / we have given / our silent consent to …”
The texts tend to be lyrical, dreamy and almost optimistic. “I feel it’s a kind of responsibility to critique things that you think are bad – but I also feel an almost moral obligation to propagate hope,” he says. A new global crisis has propelled him to focus his work on climate change and collaborate with the Climate Coalition. “I think the ecological crisis we are facing is the major historical crisis of our time and our generation will be judged on it.”