Building for Poetry

photo Chester Higgins Jr.The New York Times

I came across the following story a wee while ago – in New York City, there’s a new Poets House, just by Rockerfeller Park. It looks like a lovely space, and if I ever had to visit NY it’d be high on my Must See list. I especially love the idea of having sensors in the staircase that trigger the playing of a recorded line of poetry.

It got me thinking about the relationship between poetry and buildings, and the various places that I’ve seen that are poetry spaces – poetry libraries, poetry walks, poetry venues.

Probably the best known one in New Zealand is the Katikati Haiku Pathway, which has haiku engraved on boulders along a beautiful pathway that meanders along the Uretara Stream. Apparently it’s the biggest such pathway outside of Japan. (The HaikuNZ pages have quite a bit of info on how it came into being, and I highly recommend it!)

Then there’s the Scottish Poetry Library, just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. What an amazing place! I went in intending to spend an hour or so, and ended up staying the whole day. Completely lost track of time. It’s an incredible treasure house for poetry-focused bibliophiles. I could easily have moved in there. Name a book of poetry published in the UK in the last twenty odd years and it will almost certainly be there. And their stock of non-UK poetry is pretty impressive too. They also have a really useful website, with plenty of links to all kinds of poetry things – recordings, guides, teaching materials, you name it. (Check out the Poetry Map of Scotland for starters.)

The Poetry Bookshop in the bibliophile Mecca of Hay-on-Wye is in an old icehouse (insert inevitable pun), and is a place I spent a lot of time (not to mention money!) whenever possible. I quite like the idea of a bookshop dedicated to poetry. The most niche of niche markets.

Moving a bit more laterally … the new Wales Millennium Centre has lines by the Welsh poet, Gwenyth Lewis, in (literally) six foot high stained glass letters around the outside:

Creu Gwir fel Gwydr o Ffwrnais Awen
In these Stones Horizons Sing

The literal translation of the Welsh is ‘Creating truth like glass from inspiration’s furnace’ – this link will take you to Lewis’s explanation.

And American Formalist poet, Annie Finch, wrote a poem to be stenciled on the walls of Sitwell’s coffee shop in Cincinnati – you can see photos of it in situ here, or read about the process of writing it in Poem, Revised.

Hmm. Maybe it’s time to add Guerilla Barding to Guerilla Gardening as a social activism technique?

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