Gift of poetry only a block away

The thing about poetry is it seems to pop up when you need it most.

When walking the dog, the lines from Ha Jin’s poem “A Center” suddenly struck me. “You must hold your quiet center, / where you do what only you can do.” These words have since become like a mantra to help get me through.

The words struck me because I actually saw them in my neighbor’s front yard in Delmar.

The reason this beautiful poem suddenly appeared before my eyes is because Ben Shaw put it out there. He built a Poetry Box, similar to a Little Free Library, out of a pine tree that had to be cut down, and a cedar post from their kids’ old swing set. Unlike a Little Free Library, there are no books to take away. The poems are behind glass in the box that’s not much bigger than a regular sheet of paper. Shaw simply posts a new poem from time to time for passersby to take them in from the sidewalk. He noticed the boxes while out in Portland, Ore., at the beginning of the school year. (His daughter was to attend college there, but she had a last-minute change of heart and returned home with her parents.)

“I’m not a big patron of the arts but it’s something I have sort of missed, like seeing music during COVID. I’ve sort of missed that. And it’s been such a weird stressful time, I kind of feel like that sort of thing is what a lot of people are missing,” Shaw said. “This is my small contribution – sharing the arts with other people.”

Poetry’s been part of their family for a long time, even though Shaw says he’s a latecomer to appreciating the art form. Shaw’s father taught poetry to high schoolers and has exchanged poems with members of the family. “It was labor of love in that way and deep down like an ode to my dad, who, like I said, has really appreciated and taught poetry for so many years.”

Shaw’s not the first neighbor to gift me poetry. I found a box of free poetry books and chapbooks on a walk once. “Poetry Comes Up Where It Can” is now a bedside companion. In the foreword, Mary Oliver writes: “We exist, for a moment, in the instance of the poem.”

Shaw saw someone doing just that. “I sort of peek out every once in a while to see what happens,” Shaw said. “It’s a little social experiment because a lot of people don’t see it, don’t realize it’s a poem. But then a little kid stopped and was there for a good three or four few minutes. You can tell she was reading the poem and really sort of digesting the poem. That was kind of cool.”

What better time to draw solace from a poem or memorize a few to have in your head when the anxiety amps up, reciting them like prayers?

“These

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