Monday, June 17, 2013

Old Memory and a Poetry Pole

Setting Songs Free
by Amy LV

Click the arrow to hear me read this poem to you.

Students - Today's poem is a made-up story poem.  Somehow, last night, I started thinking about whale songs getting trapped in ice, and then I imagined being lucky enough to warm one and free one.  Just imagine if we could hear whale songs in the winter air.  When something is too good to be true, we can make it true in a poem.  We can even pretend that it's a real memory, even a memory that happened "before we were born".

If you have never heard whale songs, here are some humpbacks to cheer you up and make you think.  And if you wish to learn more about whales and their sounds, visit the Right Whale Listening Network.  My brother-in-law Jamey works here at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and for a time, he was what we called a whale crossing guard.  The world is full of fabulous mysteries....

 from The Oceania Project

Back on land, I have a special guest here today.  Last fall, my teacher friend and colleague, MaryAnn Gangi, told me about her neighbor's poetry pole.  She connected the two of us, and I have been thinking about it ever since.  Today I could not be mroe excited to welcome Cathryn Smith, Chair of the English/Philosophy Department at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY.  

Keeping Poetry Alive One Pole at a Time
by Cathryn Smith

The Poetry Pole
Photo by Cathryn Smith

One afternoon several years ago while looking through an internet site on National Poetry Celebrations, I came across an article about Portland, Oregon, where an entire part of the city installed poetry poles in their front yards and organized a poetry pole walk. As soon as I read it,  I just knew I had to have one too, so I scribbled "poetry pole" on a piece of paper and stuck it on my wall at work so it would stare and me and I wouldn't forget.

Which I promptly did, forget about it, until one day last August, when I looked up and realized the time was now.  So I trucked down to Home Depot and bought a pole, stained it, attached a brochure box to the front, a solar light on top and then late one night when no one was watching, I dug it into the dark rich soil of the front garden bed and voila, our neighborhood's first poetry pole.

Initially, people thought it was a funky new "for sale" sign and asked me about the price of the house.  Once I told them what it was, folks started to sort of crept up to it, look around, tentatively open the brochure box, pull out a poem, look around again, glance up at the house, shut the box, and walk away with poem in hand.  Sometimes kids would come up two or three at the time to the pole and dare each other to "get one."
The pole has also become a repository for other poems and poetry-related texts. Once someone left a review about poetry from the Wall Street Journal; one afternoon, I came home to a whole packet of poems shoved in there that someone had written and wanted to distribute;  someone even left 20 dollars that took me about half an hour to fish out of the box, it was stuck so deep inside.

People walk by as I am working in the garden and wave at the pole; “We love it, “ they say.  “Thank you for doing this.  The poems you choose make us think.”

But the best story so far is this:  I am futzing about in the kitchen putting away dishes, washing pots and pans when I hear someone outside calling out, "Wait, wait, it’s Billy Collins.  I love Billy Collins.  Just a minute.  Hold on." I slap  the dish towel over my shoulder and gingerly tiptoe towards the front door, poking my head around the corner.  I see a woman pulling out one of the yellow sheets of paper that holds this month’s poem “Today” by Billy Collins.  She calls to her son, who has skipped a few feet ahead, to come back and listen, and begins reading the poem as they walk away down the sidewalk and off into the cool spring evening.  I lean out the door to watch then, hear the cadence of her voice as she moves from stanza to stanza, watch her son look up and then skip ahead again a few steps as she continues to read, her voice fading quickly as they both disappear into the night.

It just doesn't get any better than that.

Come visit the pole anytime.  You will find it at 144 N. St Regis Drive, Brighton, NY, 14618. 

A Few Past Poems from The Poetry Pole
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Barry
Risk by Anis Nin
Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon
Sometimes by Sheenagh Pugh

One of my summer goals is to visit Cathryn's poetry pole in Brighton, and when I do...I will share more photos (and the poem I find) with you.  Thank you, Cathryn, for this summer inspiration.  If any readers take this on, please share here!  You know that I am thinking about this right now too.  Delightful!

Over at Sharing Our Notebooks, I am happy to welcome Emily Krempholtz!  Stop on over to my other blog and read all about her different kinds of notebooks. Maybe you'll even win one!

Please share a comment below if you wish.
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  1. Love the imagery you have here - especially the idea of ice melting through the mitten. It's such a subtle detail, but one with which we can all identify.

  2. A Poetry Pole is a great idea for a public library. Maybe a friends of the library sponsored project!

  3. Your imagination continues to amaze me. Love the idea of a whale song in your pocket!
    I am tucking away the poetry pole idea. Love the story of the Billy Collins poem! Smiling.

  4. Perhaps I can have a poetry pole at school! It's rather like the chalk poems Betsy Hubbard supports. When I chalked on my driveway, people did stop to read. Love your imagination of freeing the whale song, Amy. I've had an amazing whale experience or two-won't ever forget! Thank you for sharing about the pole too!

  5. I love your poem this week, Amy AND I love the Poetry Pole. I live in Brighton and I will need to find my way over there. Thanks for all you do!

  6. The world really is filled with such cool people! How exhilarating! Many thanks to you and Cathryn.

  7. "The world is full of fabulous mysteries...." Indeed.

    LOVE the humpbacks singing and spinning. They make me smile! I'm thinking there's a poem inside "whale crossing guard."

  8. A poetry pole is now necessary! The memory poem was lovely, I especially liked the last two lines.

  9. Hi Amy,

    One of the last poems that my fourth graders and I enjoyed was "Old Memory". They loved to hear it in your soothing voice. It was almost time to scurry somewhere else, so we only had enough time to read your student note and watch the whale video. But today as I am catching up on some reading, I returned and just love the Poetry Pole story. SO cool. I want to make one too!! Brighton is not far from me, so I must check it out. Let me know when you head out this way if you want to visit for a bit or maybe I'll wait until then to visit the pole. Happy Summer! ~ Theresa