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'Poetry pole' spawns unusual anthology

A cedar pole in Yakima pulls poets from around the globe. - Courtesy of Blue Begonia Press
A cedar pole in Yakima pulls poets from around the globe.
— image credit: Courtesy of Blue Begonia Press

Local writers will share works from a remote but popular venue.

For 10 years, pilgrims have made their way to a cedar post in Yakima. With pushpins and paper, they leave offerings of their soul and draw inspiration from others.

Surrounded by flowers at the corner of 15th Avenue and Bell, this 4-by-4 “poetry pole” is scarred by thousands of musings from people around the world.

Although it stands in the garden of Jim and Karen Bodeen, who run the award-winning Blue Begonia Press from their home, it belongs to everyone.

Bodeen, the self-described “keeper of the pole,” said the idea came to him in a vision. In 1996, he sent a letter to “a bunch of poets” telling them about the pole. The poems are still coming, delivered in person and by mail.

He and fellow editors Terry Martin, Dan Peters and Rob Prout culled more than 200 poems that survived the elements and assembled them in “Weathered Pages: The Poetry Pole, 1996-2005.”

The editors, respected poets in their own right, will join local poets for a reading from the book at 3 p.m. March 12 at Eagle Harbor Book Co.

Putting poems on the pole is “part of being a poet. It’s one way to show up,” said Bodeen, who photographs and “harvests” poems from the pole and adds new ones on a regular basis.

“There is this dialog of poetry and then there’s this dialog of service. It’s a component of serving poetry, working for poetry...where the integrity of the press comes from,” Bodeen said. “One follows as best one can those rules. It’s an ancient art.”

If poetry is a point of interaction between this world and the other world, he added, “then that should be the place where the action takes place.”

The Bodeens’ award-winning press, in business for 25 years, publishes elegant chapbooks and bound volumes. Many of its writers live in the Pacific Northwest.

“We started as a letter press and did this through 1995. We started doing trade books in 1991. We try to make beautiful books,” Bodeen said.

A grant from the Breneman-Jaech Foundation helped bring “Weathered Pages” to fruition.

Bodeen downplays his part in pole lore. His fellow editors “did the heavy lifting on this book,” he said, though they all took part in the selection process. “I’m the third party in the conversation. They do the editing.”

For some poets, this is their first time to be published. Others enjoy international fame. Together, they represent a melting pot of humanity: gay and straight; old and young, from ages 8 to 88; Native, Asian, Latino, Anglo and African American; and residents of Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Czech Republic and all across the United States.

The poems are assembled in alphabetical order by author’s name. Purely by happenstance, the book features 66 women and 66 men.

“There’s no distinction between who’s famous and who isn’t,” Bodeen said. “A community of writers bonds in this book, but not according to name or recognition.”

The editors did all they could to track down the contributors for acknowledgment in the book. Each person they found submitted a note about their work.

“It’s all mythology now,” Bodeen said. “So it sounds all dreamy. It’s all about humility, this poetry stuff.”

The humble pole stands “in the intersection of the path of the mailman and the path of the butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s a true image.”

After having had hundreds of people pushing at it, the pole needs to be reset.

A fellow poet told Bodeen that in Rome in the 1500s, dissidents scrawled criticisms of the pope in a public area. And, Bodeen said, there’s Tienanman Square and ancient mountain poets who wrote on rocks and tree trunks.

“Most of them are in out-of-the-way places,” he said.

Putting poems on the pole is one way to honor the process.

“Being a poet in the last 20 years, we keep running across writing groups, a writing community. Nobody workshops the poet,” he said. “It’s a way of being in the world more than writing a poem.”

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Posted poems

Some of the poets featured in the anthology “Weathered Pages: The Poetry Pole, 1996-2005” will read their works at 3 p.m. March 12 at Eagle Harbor Book Co. Bainbridge poets Lindsay Brown, Kristin Henshaw and John Willson will join other Kitsap County poets. A question-and-answer session and book signing will follow. For information about the book, see bluebegoniapress.blogspot.com.

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