Monday, December 17, 2012

Wendy Erd: Poems in Place

Two years ago a friend emailed me a photo from her son’s cell phone the day after Kim Cornwall’s poem-sign, What Whales and Infants Know, was dedicated at Beluga Point. The photo, taken beside that wind- swept pullout along Turnagain Arm, is of a woman taking a photo of Kim’s newly installed poem. A moment recorded both by her and of her.

I imagine the confluence of reader, poem, a certain stage of the tide, a chill wind chunneling along the Chugach, her mood, the hour, all conspired as William Stafford once said,  to lift a poem rooted in place to an idea. Something she felt was worth taking home and remembering. 

“It's working,” wrote my friend who sent the photo. Along with Alaska State Parks, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, friends and supporters, we’d dreamed of sharing Kim’s astonishing words in this particular place with others. We hoped travelers might pause, read and discover something for themselves there. 

Perhaps like me, you are never far from poetry. I lug books from Homer to Hanoi, where I often work, willing to pay the extra baggage fees. For me, poems are walking sticks to lean on. Indispensable.

Not so for most of my friends and relatives. When I ask if they read poetry, they look a bit sheepish, shrug and say, “well no, not really.” 

What  might happen then, when the old knowing that lives inside poetry marries the voices
of wind, river, forest, the pull of the tide, or the quiet rhythm of a lake and is available to all who pass by?  What might happen when poems escape the confines of book covers, libraries and English classes and are in conversation with wild places where we love to linger?

A statewide project called Poems in Place is poised to answer this question. As Alaskan  writers and readers, and hopefully contributors,  please read on.  A public call for poems that are rooted in a particular place will be launched January 1, 2013.

Poems in Place is a collaborative literary arts project that brings together Alaska State Parks, the Alaska Center for the Book, a volunteer Poems in Place Steering Committee of poets and writers and  ultimately the public of Alaska to discover, create and place a poem in each of Alaska’s six regional State Park Areas.

This project grew naturally from the first poem in place, What Whales and Infants Know by Kim Cornwall,  dedicated at Beluga Point in Chugach State Park in May 2011.

From 2012- 2015, two poems a year will be placed in six  Alaskan State Park regions: Mat-Su/ Copper River Basin, Kenai, Northern/Interior, Southeast, Southwest,  and Kodiak and or/Prince William Sound. The first two poems (2012-2013) will find a home in Chena River State Recreation Area above Fairbanks (Northern/Interior) and at Totem Bight State Historical Park in Ketchikan (Southeast).

Alaskans, especially writers and readers of poetry, will be invited to submit up to three poems each: poems created in response to the project invitation, as well as work they may nominate by other Alaskan poets, living or not, that resonates with one of these two places. An honorarium of $100 will be paid for selected poems. 

The project is supported by Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Usibelli Foundation, the Alaska Poetry League, the Alaska Center for the Book, and numerous generous individuals. For more information or to read the Beluga Point poem please visit:


Lynn Lovegreen said...

Very cool!

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

Love this idea and so glad it's spreading. Thanks for sharing the news.