One of the most delightful things about Missoula is that it hosts a diverse population of both blue collar working folk and erudite academics, but there is a pleasant absence of any “town versus gown” conflicts you hear about in other small towns with a university population, such as Lethbridge, Peterborough, Oxford, and Cambridge. We may not have the same types of education, but we drink the same beer, go to the same film festivals, dance at the same concerts, and share our cultural and literary heritage. The ad campaign slogans of our local symphony orchestra consist of: “Great music doesn’t care (Insert something about personal appearance, town size, background, etc), great music cares only that it be well played and thoroughly enjoyed”
But I am rambling. What I am getting at is that I am going to miss some of these manifestations of the synthesis between town and gown, and among those icons is the marvellous “Poetry Pole”, which I see every day on my morning walk. It’s a small pole with what looks like a birdhouse on the front top, only the “birdhouse” has only three wooden sides, and the front face is clear glass. Every week, a different poem is printed and put inside of the glass case. Sometimes it will be from a famous American classic, like Emily Dickinson, or the canon of English Romantics, ala Shelley, or sometimes it will be a local poet. For four years I’ve enjoyed the Poetry Pole, and I’m going to be greatly sad to leave Missoula and no longer get a weekly dose of random poetry. If I ever get a house of my own (My dream is either a warmly painted, slightly askew refurbished flat in the art-nouveau town of Ålesund, Norway, or a cozy Queen Anne’s style house with a spacious garden and solarium in Victoria, BC) I plan on putting my own Poetry Pole on my front lawn, as a gift to the neighbourhood and to carry on this beautiful tradition. Before I leave Missoula, I also intend to tape a letter to the Poetry Pole, informing the owner how the poems and the Pole itself have touched me these four years here, and how I intend to carry on the tradition. I wonder if they often get fan mail.
Now, in the vein of poetry sharing, have a cup of Ritsos:
The museum guard was smoking in front of the sheepfold.
The sheep were grazing among the marble ruins.
Farther down the women were washing in the river
. You could hear the beat of the hammer in the blacksmith’s shop.
The shepherd whistled. The sheep ran ti him as though the marble ruins were running.
The water’s thick nape shone with coolness behind the oleanders. A woman spread her
washed clothing on the shrubs and the statues –
she spread her husband’s underpants on Hera’s shoulders.
Foreign, peaceful, silent intimacy – years on years. Down on the shore
the fishermen passed by with broadbaskets full of fish on their heads,
as though they were carrying long and narrow flashes of light:
gold, rose, and violet – the same as that procession bearing the long,
richly embroidered veil of the goddess that we cut up the other day
to arrange as curtains and table-cloths in our emptied houses.