Don’t Fear the Poem . . . or the Museum

rompdoorI’m working at the ROMP Rummage Store today, and as always, I’m trying to get customers to go to the museum–it’s only 2 miles outside of town. It’s easy to find. The door is open, the lights are on, air conditioner going. A lot of people have no interest in poetry. One woman today said, “I’m scared.”

I said, “There’s no one there. The door’s open–just go in and look around at your own pace.”

I didn’t convince her.

But seriously, don’t fear the poem. Don’t fear the poetry museum.

This museum is for and of the people. You can touch stuff in there. Write on walls. Listen to a jukebox. Sit in an easy chair and read some old autograph books from 1930. ALL of the poetry in it is written by regular people like you. Don’t fear it . . . please.

It’s only called a “museum” because I wanted the acronym ROMP when I started this place 4 years ago.

If you came out to the first museum, this one is quite a bit different. It’s in a different building, across the pasture from the old one. The exhibits and your interaction are different. Come see.

There’s no one there who’s going to tell you how to read the poems or write a poem or what to look at or think or feel. It’s a trusting place. Go in and see.

Don’t fear the poem.

–Shaun Perkins

 

Emily’s Day

IMG_0756It’s her day. Dec. 10, 1830, she came
Into the world and lived in its hands
The way she wanted to live and died
In its hands the way she wanted to die.

What she did not want is for us to see
Her witchery with words, but in the end,
The poetry breathed stronger than that wish
And we breathe stronger for her words.

In November, I got to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum and Homestead. I had a wonderful tour guide and met the museum director Jane Wald and spent an entire day in poetic euphoria. Please go visit this museum and/or support its work in any way that you can. It is truly a wonderful, personal, and lyric experience. Like ROMP, it is a museum, but not a cold, institutional-like environment in any way.

I also got lost a while in Amherst Books and visited the cemetery where she is buried and where a wonderful town memorial has her as a centerpiece.

[NOTE: I saw the word error in the sentence below but decided to keep it.]

Since following in love with E.D. when I was a teenager reading

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us–Don’t tell!

They’d banish us – you know!

she has been in and out of my life. I did not understand her poetry for a long time, still don’t understand a lot of it, but that doesn’t bother me anymore. I have developed a taste for the image, for the economy of words, for the beauty of the stroke of syllable that teases and leaves unsaid what lives inside.

Happy Birthday, Emily. We continue to weave your web.

–Shaun Perkins

Some of my photos from the day are below:

 

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Dickinson grave plot

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Portion of the mural at the cemetery where E.D. is buried.

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Front door at E.D. museum

 

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Back of the E.D. house

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There is a basement full of used books in this place!

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Home of Austin Dickinson, Emily’s brother. It was also on the tour. It is full of the original furnishings and has not been restored–peeling wallpaper and all kinds of ambiance. Unique.

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At a strip mall across the street from the museum

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This shop is across the street from the E.D. house.

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That corner room on the 2nd floor is where magic happened.

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Lovely tree in the E.D. yard to the east.

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Parking sign

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A tour participant took this photo of me with E.D. house in background.

Accessory

printsbeginning2I wrote a poem on a piece of a grocery sack today. A few months ago I bought the above two pieces of artwork, or as they are called on the back “wall accessories” at a thrift store. They are both prints from 1972 that are titled “We Are Engaged.” I altered one of them and am waiting on inspiration to do the other.

I like the idea of a wall accessory. I suppose a rug is a floor accessory. Is a porch a house accessory? A hanging plant an air accessory? An ice box magnet a refrigerator accessory.

Apparently, I just like the word “accessory.”

–Shaun Perkinsbeginning to learnbeginning4

Place

Blanco-R-Photo-High-Res-HEADSHOT-20131Home. Place. Belonging. These are the three words poet Richard Blanco repeated during his June 11th talk in Lousiville at the Convention Center. Blanco, President Obama’s inaugaural poet who penned the very popular “One Today,” described how he became a poet, how he . . . became. He did not start out as a poet, and, in fact, still works as a civil engineer, the career he trained for. But civil engineering report-writing took him to poetry and poetry took him . . . back to home.

Blanco asked, “What is home to you?” This question has propelled his writing life. Memories of his mother, grandmother, father, and brother, filled with grainy Polaroids from the 70’s, highlighted the talk, interspersed with Blanco’s characteristically sensory-rich poetry of object, place, family and harmony.

He joked about one photo featuring a vinyl green couch which he said was an “Ode to My Plastic-Covered Sofa” and described his grandmother in loving, ornery detail as a woman who shunned the Winn Dixie as being elitist and who was good at backward compliments, such as, “I love what you did with your hair . . . finally.”

He read his poem “Mother Country,” which ends with the beautiful lines in his own mother’s voice:

” . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. You know, mijo,
it isn’t where you’re born that matters, it’s where
you choose to die–that’s your country.”

I had just read Blanco’s memoir of being chosen as the inaugural poet–the process and the poems that came from it–For All of Us, One Today (which I highly recommend for anyone interested at all in the power and the call of poetry)–before the event, and ideas of poetry’s place in our world were uppermost in my mind. It is the reason I started the Rural Okalhoma Museum of Poetry (ROMP), after all—to keep expanding that place in the lives of people from all walks of life.

Near the end of the memoir, Blanco said that he makes a “conscious commitment to keep connecting America with poetry and reshape how we think about it.” During the Q&A, I got to ask him about how he is doing that. He responded that one way was talking to the audience he had right then: A roomful of teachers, all of us in the city to grade AP exams for a week.

Children, we can hope, are first exposed to poetry at home–through riddles and rhymes, wordplay and narrative poems, songs and nonsense poems. Children are poets. And then . . . something happens. The reading and writing of poetry gets lost in the way that so many schools compose their curriculum, divorcing this essential journey with words from its natural place–which is in every aspect of our lives.

ROMP exists to remind people of all ages that poetry is essential to their lives. IT IS ESSENTIAL. It is still the best form of communication for reminding us of our common humanity and our need for home, for place, for belonging.

Thank you, Mr. Blanco.

–Shaun Perkins

Here’s Your Poem

recorderPOEM LIFE premieres this Saturday night, March 21, at the VFW in Locust Grove. Here is another post about something you will experience in the show–the chance to have a personalized poem composed on the spot and taken home with you. If you follow ROMP or know the activities I get up to, you already know what poem-in-a-minute is about. You give me 3 words you like or want to see in a poem, and I type up a poem on the spot with those 3 words somewhere in it.

Instead of typing poems during the show, I will have a segment where I cassette-record 2-3 poems for people. Yes, I have moved up in the technology world–from manual typewriter to cassette recorder. It will be quicker to compose the poem and say it straight into a recorder, rather than to type it–though I’m a quick typer . . typist.

Over the years, as a poet, I have discovered my true calling not in the typical poetic endeavors of publishing poems, teaching them and holding poetry readings (all heroic endeavors) but in creating experiences of poetry for other people. That’s the strong teacher side in me coming out. My family has a long history of accomplished educators, and though I occasionally throw in the towel with teaching, I always come back to it in some way.

Poem Life and the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry itself have been ways for me to bring together the celebration of poetry with the facilitation of its practice in the lives of everyday people. Poems-in-a-Minute has been one way I’ve extended this philosophy of poetry as experience–having performed at many festivals and venues. Though I no longer strive to have my poetry published (other than on this website), I cannot not be a poet–a wise woman told me that once. I just want to be a poet for other people.

Come to the show, ya’ll!

There will be a $100 door prize drawing and other fun surprises.

–Shaun Perkins

 

 

$1.00 a Song

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Andy Bartosovsky

During my POEM LIFE show, there will be a segment (a crime) where I offer up a series of poems that are reinterpretations of the Psyche and Eros myth. One of the poems in the cycle is called “The Return,” and in the show, it is the last one. I have two versions of this poem, one I wrote as a regular poem, the other with the thought in mind that it could be a song.

Both the poem and the song are featured in the show; however, I’m not a songwriter, singer or musician, so I managed to find someone who put it to music for me and sang it. That would be Andy Bartosovsky, a friend of a friend from Facebook who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. (Social media is truly good for many things.)

You can listen to the song at his website, and please send a little payment his way.

Thanks, Andy! The poem is perfect for Poem Life, and I look forward to playing it for an audience.

–Shaun Perkins