By Matt Miner
For the Hollywood Star, June, 2010
There’s a lot to catch the eye on a leisurely walk through Hollywood and surrounding neighborhoods. This time of year, you’ll find lush gardens, real-estate flyers and poetry posts. Poetry posts? All over the city, and especially in our part of town, homeowners are sharing their love of the written word with passers-by, mostly in attractively designed wooden display boxes mounted on posts (or poles; the terms seem to be interchangeable) for your reading pleasure.
No one seems to be able to pin down where this particular style of presentation originated, but many online sources lead to Jim Bodeen of Yakima, Washington, who in 1995 put up a poetry post in his yard to accumulate poetry from anyone who wanted to contribute. The post serves as a kind of community bulletin board. Bodeen is passionate about his post and the creativity it has inspired. In an e-mail he wrote, “The pole touches earth and sky at the same time. Cold Mountain (Chinese poet Han Shan) carved on trees and rocks.”
Irvington resident John Milliken may be the original Portland poetry post producer. Inspired by Bodeen’s post, Milliken “decided to put up a pole to expose my writing beyond family, immediate friends and cease paying for some mighty fine rejection letters from publications that did not share a mutual admiration. I suppose by now I have twenty-some poles in and around Portland and a couple in California. What began in self-interest has blossomed into a loose community of readers and writers whose main interest is engaging with neighbors and passersby.”
Hollywood resident Dan Sisco, author of three published poetry books, mounted two poetry posts in his corner yard. One is for poetry he finds, the other for his own. He got the idea from Kate Schuyler’s post, one of the neighborhood’s first, built by John Milliken in 2006.
“We live in a culture with a lot of toxic language,” says Sisco. “To read something that’s beautiful is nice.”
Robin Shallcross, a psychologist, had begun to notice how anxious and depressed people were becoming during the economic downturn. She looked for something she could do on a personal level to help lift peoples’ spirits. She planted her post on the Alameda Ridge with the help of Doug Trotter, who has built a small business constructing and installing poetry posts around the area.
“We’ve had ours now for a little over a year,” says Shallcross, “and it’s brought nothing but positive responses. People make it a point to stop by and say how much they enjoy it; and, like me, have asked how they could get one.” That’s why Trotter’s business card is displayed on the post. To date, he’s built at least five others.
“We are a destination walking route for people from other parts of Portland,” says Shallcross. “People leave poetry suggestions, origami displays and have asked if I write my own poetry. I don’t! I strive to change the poem weekly, and it’s a totally eclectic selection. I’m always open to people’s input. One woman actually thought it was a project sponsored by the city and that I was an English teacher. I gently disabused her.”
Bonnie Gladstone’s former housemate Mike Hoffman built her poetry post in front of her Hollywood home. She fills it with a mix of original and found poetry and recently had a mystery poet leave a poem in her box. Gladstone says that searching for poems for the post has broadened the scope of poetry she reads. She also thinks that the poetry posts inspire readers to pay more attention to the world around them.
The next time you’re out for a stroll around the neighborhood allow some time, not only to smell the roses, but to read the poetry. If you would like to know more about Doug Trotter’s poetry post services, his Web site is poetrypostspdx.com. John Milliken also builds to order. He can be reached at (503) 288-1370 or moc.n1502904963sm@7n1502904963iborp1502904963op1502904963.
By John Milliken
Twilight draws down on this December eve;
first sapphire, then cerulean then indigo
as I look upon the dogwood tree, its naked tendrils
shorn of leaves and glorious blossoms
that have become both promise and memory.
A Few Haiku
By Matt Miner
The wisdom of age
teaches us the agelessness
of our ignorance.
Do birds know the stars?
Do wolves really see the moon?
Do fish love rainbows?
You take my breath away.
Passion? Or just the pillow
over my face?