This was a note left on my poetry fence and sums up what many people have told me in person over the years. A middle school boy poured out his grief for a deceased teacher on the poetry fence. A homeless man asked for a copy of a poem that resonated with him, and he later read it at his mother’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. A few weeks ago, a man walking his dog said that when he’s having a bad day, he comes by the fence to feel better.
What’s a poetry fence and why would it provide comfort? In 2009, I hung one bulletin board with children’s poetry on my old cedar fence, another board with adult poems at the other end of the fence, switching out the poems every couple of weeks, and I’ve kept it up ever since. Under the shaded canopy of holly trees, neighbors and visitors pause to read as they walk the public sidewalk that parallels the fence. My neighbors called it the poetry fence, and the name stuck.
When they stop to read, their dogs drink from a water bowl I freshen at least once a day. They listen to the songs of the birds I feed inside the fence, and the sound of water trickling in my garden’s pond.
Neighbors told me they brought friends and family visiting from other cities and countries. Because I took the poetry boards down when it rained or snowed, I started laminating colorful pictures and text and stapling them to the fence to stay up rain or shine so the visitors would always have something to see.
The pictures and text promote nature and encourage reading and science. They exhort everyone to, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” There’s a large pictorial banner that reads, “One World. Many Stories,” and a sign in several languages that informs you that, “Hate has no home here.”
Marbles and colorful wine bottle bottoms, embedded in the fence, create glowing art, and there’s a small grated window that allows passersby to peek at the garden and pond inside.
In April 2013, I added a Little Free Library in the curbside parking strip in front of my house, around the corner from the poetry fence. Neighbors leave books in it and take books from it; it’s open day and night. It’s usually decorated for holidays and national heritage months, honoring the richness of our culture and the people in our community.
I’ve also planted cherry tomato plants in that same parking strip with a sign that reads: “Fast Food; Help yourself to tomatoes.” Grade school children stop and eat tomatoes on the way home from school; a grandmother who lives alone picks several for her dinner salad.
In addition to my full-size poetry fence, I supply a smaller one for my local Duncan Library for April, National Poetry Month. I also provide pick-a-poem jars there during April with poems for adults and children. For three years, I’ve given out children’s poems with candy at Halloween – all to get poetry out into the world and to create community.
This April, I will place 64 poems along Mount Vernon Avenue, the main street of Del Ray, and a few down Monroe Avenue, which intersects Mount Vernon. The poemsare suggestive of the nearby businesses, art gallery, church, schools, library, and farmer’s market they sit in front of.
Saturday, April 6, I lead Del Ray’s second Poetry Walk, meeting at the Duncan Public Library, then starting in the north at Streets Market and Café, south to Eye2Eye Optometry Corner, to read the poems aloud that are in front of the establishments.
If you can’t join me, you can stop in the Duncan Library to get a copy of the list of businesses and poems, and lead your own poetry walk with friends and family during the month of April. Don’t delay, though, because the poems are up only for April.
Nevertheless, you can always come visit the poetry fence at the corner of Dewitt Avenue and E. Windsor Avenue in Del Ray. Come alone or bring a friend!