Wendy Erd: An Update on Poems in Place

At the Chena River, with “The Blue Fish,” by Frank Soos
Is it fitting to
begin a blog post about a uniquely Alaskan project Poems in Place from my small rented room in Hanoi, Vietnam?  As the coordinator of this rich and amazing
project I divide time between my home in Alaska and projects overseas. For me
it is good grist for inspiration to work part time in a country thick in love
with poetry. An octogenarian historian in Hanoi, Huu Ngoc, said the two
constants in Vietnam have always been poetry and war.
In Asian
countries poetry has flourished outside under the open sky for centuries,
carved on stones or written on temple columns and paired with resonant or
sacred places in the landscape. Ancient characters scribe parallel couplets on
either side of many temple gates in Hanoi. One of my favorite couplets reads, The color of the water/ The light of the
mountain/ Say hello and goodbye
, and The
root of the sky/ The hole of the moon/ Come together like close friends.
Poetry is
memorized and recited in a particular musical cadence. Even if you didn’t
understand Vietnamese you would instantly recognize that you were in the
audible presence of poetry.  It rolls off
tongues in the most unanticipated moments. A motorcycle taxi driver quoted Ho
Xuan Huong’s poetry to me one day as we veered through a tangled morass of city
traffic. Over the chuff of hundreds of Honda Dreams at a stoplight, I leaned
close to hear poetry written at the end of Le Dynasty over 200 years ago.
As readers of 49
Writers, I’m guessing you crack open books of poetry and linger there. Maybe you
write poetry, or feel as I do that poems can be walking sticks to lean on.  Perhaps you pay extra luggage fees for all
the poetry books you lug along with you. We are rare birds in the public
forest. When I ask acquaintances at home if they read poetry metaphorically
they step back. Not since school. Not
really interested. I don’t get it.
Poetry’s a tough
sell. Garrison Keillor converts unsuspecting listeners each morning when he
reads poems in his mellifluous voice for the Writers Almanac on NPR. Drivers on
their way to work, or those at home washing breakfast dishes at the sink,
listen. When poetry crops up in unlikely places – on a car radio, as a stuffer
in an electric bill or happened upon on a sign in a state park – it catches new
ears and eyes delightfully off guard and open to experience a poem.
This September
brought to fruition the first year of a three-year statewide project to pop poems
out from inside the covers of a book and place them outside in Alaska’s state
parks. After a public call went out last winter, we received over 120 poetry
submissions written by Alaskans that resonated with Chena River State
Recreational Area north of Fairbanks or Totem Bight State Historical Park in
Ketchikan. From these submissions, our volunteer committee of writers, poets
and state parks representatives choose two poems for each park.
Zoom ahead to
this past September – Emily Wall’s This
Forest, This Beach, You
and Ernestine Hayes’ The Spoken Forest were dedicated in Totem Bight SHP, and Frank
Soos’ poem The Blue Fish and John
Haines’ Poem of the Forgotten, were
placed on permanent signs at Rose Hip Campground and outside a public use log cabin
in Chena River SRA.
Following the
dedication in Totem Bight, as we chatted near Emily Wall’s newly unveiled poem
in place, we watched as a woman visitor from Utah came down the path, stopped,
read the poem. Obviously moved by the experience she lingered there. The
ancient tradition of placing poetry outside along a traveler’s path has found
its way to Alaska.
For more
information on this year’s poems and dedications, there are great articles in the Juneau Empire and the Fairbanks Daily News Miner
Poems in Place encourages Alaskans to see our place
with new eyes. I hope as writers and readers you will join us and submit poems
for the coming year. Later this winter we will be seeking poems previously
written or written in response to the call as well as nominations of poems
written by Alaskan poets, that resonate with two parks for 2013-2014:
Independence Mine State Historical Park in Hatcher Pass and Lake Alegnagik
State Recreation Site in Wood-Tikchik State Park near Dillingham.
Poems in Place
is a collaboration between Alaska Center for the Book, Alaska State Parks, a
wise volunteer committee of writers, poets and parks friends, and ultimately
the residents of Alaska. Poems in Place project is supported by the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska
State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Usibelli
Foundation, the Alaska Poetry League, Alaska Center for the Book, and numerous
generous individuals.          
about the next round of poetry submissions will be posted later this year at http://www.alaskacenterforthebook.org/id116.html   
Please stay tuned. 

4 thoughts on “Wendy Erd: An Update on Poems in Place”

  1. Wonderful wonderful wonder. It is a privilege to live in a state where poetry flourishes under the open sky.

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