Poetry Everywhere: The Main Street Poetry Box Project

Clear Lake Campground rests on the edge of Cache Creek and has welcomed visitors for decades. RVs, tents, and trailers stretch along the creek’s banks. Kids play ping pong under the covered patio; an older couple sits in their foldup chairs, sipping on coffee. It’s another summer Saturday at the campground.

But there’s excitement near the office, where Lisa Wilson, owner of Clear Lake Campground, Georgina Marie, Lake County Poet Laureate, and Gary Maes, the mastermind behind the Main St. Poetry Boxes, check the alignment of the newest poetry box. You may have bumped into a poetry box while wandering down Main Street in Kelseyville or wandered by one in Middletown. There, if you take a second, you’ll notice a well-made wooden box mounted to a wall, a poem tacked inside. It’s all part of a plan to spread poetry throughout the county.

“Should I go a bit left?” Gary asks, edging the box sideways slightly. “Or should I line it up with this seam?” He slides it a bit further.

“I like it lined up,” Georgina replies.

Lisa looks at it a moment, then agrees. Gary drills a few holes, and voila! The new poetry box lives. Gary grabs two poems printed on oversized paper and hands them to Lisa.

“Take a look at these,” he encourages. “Which one do you like the best?”

Lisa peers at each poem, and chooses “Narwhal?”, a poem Gary wrote for his grandson.

It has one long horn, but also fins ‘n’ tail

Makes one think of a unicorn

But also a whale.

“I like this one,” Lisa smiles. “I can imagine parents reading it to their kids before they head in the office.”

Gary smiles, then frames the box with a welcome sign and a star. It looks like it’s meant to be there. “I have a friend who lives in Portland who shares my love of poetry,” he says.” And early in the pandemic, he started sending me pictures of poems posted in boxes in the neighborhoods where he walks. I liked the idea, and thought, ‘We need something like that in Kelseyville.’  I had a lot of pine from a barn I had just built, and it’s beautiful wood. So I used that to make the boxes.”

Lisa Wilson, Georgina Marie, and Gary Maes

Gary’s just installed box five and is ready to move to box six. He grabs his box of screws and drill, ready to move on to the next stop. After a few photos, everyone heads off to Lakeshore Drive and Highlands Park, home of the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Gary’s already by the entrance, scoping out the stucco wall. “I brought some masonry screws,” he says, grabbing a box of blue screws.  “I’ll drill a couple extra holes, just to make sure it holds.”

As he drills the holes, Georgina holds the box level. “That should do it,” he says, taking the level from the box and stepping back.

“It looks nice,” Georgina replies.

Gary grabs a copy of “To be of use” by Marge Percy and tacks it in the poetry box.

The people I love the best

jump into work head first

without dallying in the shallows

And swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. 

“This one reminds me of the hard workers needed to run a Chamber of Commerce,” Lisa says. “I think it’s perfect here.”

The box doesn’t just frame the poem; it’s also framed by the rounded arch of the chamber building’s entrance. It’s the first greeting people will see when they enter; a fitting place for public poetry.

Right now, you can find two boxes on Main Street in Kelseyville, one at the Middletown Art Center, and these two new ones in Clearlake. But these boxes are just the beginning of the project. Georgina Marie, with funds from an American Academy of Poets, will be working with Gary to install boxes throughout the county. “My goal is to have public poetry in every community in Lake County, including the tribal communities,” she says as we walk up the ramp to the Chamber building. “I’m also working on creating tiny poetry libraries and poetry murals. I want to make poetry more accessible to all.”

And it is. I’ve seen people wandering through Kelseyville take a moment to read a poem before heading off to Fore Family Vineyards for a tasting, or standing thoughtfully outside the Middletown Art Center, caught up in poetry for a moment before entering the gallery.

Poetry has always invited us to slow down for a second and contemplate something new; it’s nice to have that in Lake County.

If you have suggestions for poems, or better yet, your own poetry please email Gary at gary.maes48@gmail.com. He does the posting in Kelseyville and can send poems along to the others.

To keep updated on the Main Street Poetry Boxes, visit Georgina Marie’s website at georginamariepoet.com.

David Wakefield

David and Trudy Wakefield started The Bloom in 2018 to showcase the best parts of Lake County and to provide a local outlet for community events, arts, music, and writing.

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