Rebecca Frevert wrote to me recently about the poems she posts in her front parking strip. I asked her to write a brief story about how that started and what has developed since in her Everett, Washington neighborhood. Here is her response. –KF
Parking Strip Poets – Rebecca Frevert
Blame this crazy idea of poetry in a parking strip on Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud daffodils. Spring 2008: my north Everett garden blowsy, snails and slugs on the move, layered gray clouds. Then March finally arrives and those butter-cupped suns rise in their beds all over the neighborhood. Pulling up shotweed and spreading compost, I imagined Wordsworth lounging on his couch, dreaming of his dancing daffodils. And started dreaming my own vision, of somehow wedding my two passions, gardening and poetry, sharing both with neighbors.
North Everett is a walker’s paradise with wide sidewalks, century old beeches, plums, cherries, and its bookend destinations, Legion Park’s arboretum to the north and Grand Park overlooking Port Gardener Bay to the south. Years ago, after a load of compost dumped on the parking strip burnt the grass to death, my seventy-year-old neighbor Emory and I dug up the sod and planted a flower bed. He’s left earth now, but I’ve always called this little garden Emory’s Bed. A perfect spot to catch the eye of the walkers who might stop a few minutes to read a poem. The poetry stand is a simple design painted blue with a Plexiglas lid that keeps out the rain (but not the spiders who love to leave cocoons in its corners).
I agonized over the first poem. I realized that what I chose to share with strangers and neighbors would be at times self-revelatory. Would I focus on seasons, holidays, world events, politics, or simply share my favorite poems? Should I censor or worry about offending sensibilities and gear my choices toward the pleasant and crowd-pleasing? The primal, erotic Last Gods by Galway Kinnell didn’t make the cut. Call me a coward, but do public decency laws prevail in a poetry stand?
The first poem I chose was I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, and later, with a warm June day, Dickinson’s Debauchee of Dew; when the first snow fell, Frost’s Stopping by Woods. I’ve chosen famous classics by Keats and Blake. Leonard Cohen, e.e.cummings, Gary Snyder, Rumi, Louise Gluck, Marge Piercy all take their turn. After a neighbor mentioned they would like to take home a copy, I started including several copies under the original, which I slide into a plastic sheath for protection from rain and dew. Which copies get snatched up quickest is fascinating, with Mary Oliver’s The Journey the winner so far. When the last copy is taken, someone inevitably takes the original and the kiosk may remain empty for a while when I’m too busy to search out another. Neighbors inform me that they schedule their evening walks to pass by the poetry stand and are a tad disappointed if the poem is old stuff, or the stand is empty.
My offerings often are kid -oriented in April and May. I love seeing the kids from Whittier elementary school stopping to read as they walk home from school. As I write this today, families are stopping by read about the Owl and the Pussycat as they walk home after the annual Easter egg hunt at our local park. Last Halloween, I taped green lit LED sticks to the lid and watched as the costumed princesses, Darth Vaders, hoboes and bumblebees left my front porch after collecting a treat and headed to the kiosk, huddled over, reading The Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash .
A sign on the stand encourages folks to contribute their own selections or compositions. Last year, to my surprise and delight, a young poetess named Devany left three hand written poems she wrote herself:
She has lots of
She really likes blue
She has a baby
It drives me crazy
But she says love makes a true lady.
When our much loved family dog, Sunny, died suddenly in 2009, my son placed a poem about death and loss in the kiosk. A few days later we found bouquets of flowers placed on the ground around the stand with sympathy cards and notes from strangers who loved seeing Sunny strut his neighborhood over the years. When a friend’s father died, she asked me to place Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas in the stand in his honor.
Bringing “poetry to the people” and people to poetic expression is such a gratifying experience. I believe that poetry is our first language; we hear it from birth in the rhythms of ditties and lullabies as our parents soothed us to sleep. I’ve wondered why we lose this love of language as we grow up, becoming intimidated and put off whenever the word “poetry” is attached to a reading.
In the past year, I’ve learned of other poetry lovers building kiosks, poetry poles or stands, mailboxes full of poems, even a “poem bench” in Seattle. A neighbor in Everett built his own and then built one for a friend. He also mentioned a sacred sanctuary he visited with poetry in stands along a labyrinth path. Someday I hope to gather my choices together in a booklet with some of the stories of why a poem was chosen.
I imagine I’m becoming the neighborhood eccentric since I started this project. This summer I’m going to start a poetry corner for kids on the bulletin board at our neighborhood park playground. Who knows? Perhaps a poem planted today will sprout our poets of tomorrow?
Rebecca Frevert has been a nurse midwife for over 30 years, working at Providence Midwifery Service in Everett. “I fell in love with poetry when I heard Poe’s The Bells performed in middle school. In 1966, when I saw the movie Dr. Zhivago, I wanted to be the poet Zhivago, not Laura or Tonya, a disturbing urge for a teenaged girl. My husband and I have two sons, 20 and 23 yrs old, who both write amazing poetry and put mine to shame! As Neruda wrote: Poetry arrived in search of me. I don’t know where it came from…..”