“Only mystery makes us live. Only mystery.”
The 2017-18 Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry exhibit ONLY MYSTERY ended September 21, 2018.
The information and photographs below are one way of archiving the exhibit. Some of the impromptu poems created by visitors to the exhibit and other items may appear in the museum annex when ROMP Rummage Store reopens this fall.
The idea behind the exhibit Only Mystery was to imagine a house exploded by poetry. The “explosions” transformed the elemental structure of each room. Each “room” provided a different experience of poetry.
This exhibit is exceedingly personal and equally inviting. Over the last two years, visitors have added a wealth of their own poems to every room in the museum.
When I began working on the exhibit, I realized the exhibit was also (or maybe, really) about the lives of women.
–Shaun Perkins, ROMP director
The living room began as a project between my dad Amos Perkins and me. I wanted the living room to be the sea, and the poem to represent it would be Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck.” I first wrote the entire poem on the wall, and then Dad began painting over it. The motif of the ladder was brought in, and the rest came together from there.
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.
The bathroom is a place where water is a physical sensation but not of wetness. The ribbons invite you in and also slow you down. This room has probably had the most interaction of all of them in the museum. When I hung the ribbons I had no idea people would use them for hanging their own poems, but the ribbons are now full of them. Dolls are the motif, and Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” was the inspiration.
This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
The bedroom is the place of the body and earth, bone and gourd, flower and leaf. The bed is a wood display table full of what we, animals, and nature leave behind, and an actual bed spring is the wall, full of old photos of women in non-traditional garb and activities. Two wonderful paintings above the window were made by Sydney Schwichtenberg, who is pictured in the photo. The inspiration was Audre Lorde’s “Hanging Fire,” and the motif is skin.
what if I die
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.
–Audre Lorde, “Hanging Fire”
This room is a tribute to my grandmother Ruby Wilkinson. The Raggedy Ann doll and other items in the room were made by her. The poet’s retreat was her house for many years. She was a master seamstress. The inspiration was “Rune of the Finland Woman” by Marilyn Hacker, and the motif is patterns.
She could plait a child’s hair with a fishbone comb.
She could tend a coal fire in the Arctic wind.
She could mend an engine with a sewing pin.
She could warm the dark feet of a dying man.
–Marilyn Hacker, “Rune of the Finland Woman”
Like her namesake and Sherlock Holmes before him,
Perry wants to forestall boredom and to work puzzles.
When she bought the bookstore, she also found
a safe beauty in old cursive words locked in time.
Mason couldn’t help being tantalized by an odd case.
Once Paul Drake said, “It’s a trap of some sort,”
and Mason replied, “Well, the bait interests me.”*
Perry’s bait, the altered book, exposes the mind
with its marginalia, the words having everything
to do with the writer and nothing to do with the text.
These notes and doodles represent pure truth.
There is no need to tell a lie in the margins.
In fact, why else write in a book unless you knew
it would embrace the hidden life you told no one about?
*from The Case of the Cautious Coquette
–Shaun Perkins, from The Book with the Beacon Lights