If you haven’t seen Tacoma’s newest Poetry Box yet, you’d be forgiven. Tucked away in the east end of Freighthouse Square near the art gallery, it’s not the biggest public art piece around — but it’s part of a new movement from Seattle to Portland that has folks stashing poems inside display boxes to add some reflection to our busy passing lives.
There are at least three Poetry Boxes in Tacoma so far, including the Freighthouse Square one, which was installed last month by the Puget Sound Poetry Connection.
“It’s kind of become a trend,” explains Connection president Connie Walle, who organized the box with fellow member Carl Palmer and is responsible for swapping out the poem sheets inside the artsy blue wooden box mounted on the wall. “They’re all over Portland, and Seattle has started putting them everywhere. So I couldn’t not do it here.”
One good thing about the Connection’s poetry box is that it’s interactive: Locate the box and you’ll see instructions for submitting your own poem (or one you like) to Walle for inclusion. There’s a new poem every few weeks — right now it’s a clever portrayal by Olympia poet Michael Magee of a homeless Wright Park man as the humanist poet Walt Whitman.
A side effect of the box is it leads passers-by on to see art in the nearby gallery, says Walle.
“People will go and talk to the gallery (staff) about it,” Walle says. “People are definitely seeing it.”
But the main thing, Walle says, is to bring poetry to everyday people.
Ruth Anderson agrees. The Meeker Middle School language arts teacher, inspired by a poetry box on Yakima Avenue, installed a weatherproof box built by her students last year on the parking strip garden in front of her North Tacoma home. Mounted on a tall piece of driftwood, it’s surrounded by blossom trees and bulbs. She swaps out poems every two to four weeks. Right now, a short 12-line poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar sings the yellow-green glory of summer in the South.
In the poetry box on Yakima Avenue, “The Humpbacks” by Mary Oliver is on display, but that could change any time: The flip-up lid allows passers-by to follow a sticker notice inviting you to “Take a Poem, Leave a Poem.” The magazine-rack-style poetry box in Shakabrah Java café on Sixth Avenue functions in the same democratic way.
“I don’t think that people read poetry like they should,” says Anderson, adding that she doesn’t get the time anymore to teach much poetry. “But when they do, they find a word or phrase that sticks with them.”
Says Walle: “If we could find homes for them, we’d love to do more.”
IF YOU GO
What: Poetry boxes around Tacoma.
Where: Freighthouse Square (east end, upper level), 452 E. 25th St., Tacoma; parking strip at 3420 N. 22nd St., Tacoma; North 11th Street and Yakima Avenue (SW corner), Tacoma.
When: Freighthouse Square box 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday; outside boxes 24/7.
Information: To submit a poem to the Freighthouse box, find it and follow the instructions. More poetry info at pugetsoundpoetryconnection.org.