April is National Poetry Month. However, I celebrate poetry every month of the year. I have a rhyme for most every reason. I’ve written four books of poetry. I have a syndicated poetry blog for which I publish verses weekly. And truth be told, I write a rhyme of some kind most every day. Someone once suggested that my mind thinks in iambic pentameter.
The first poem I remember composing was for Mrs. Hendricks’ second grade class at Liberty Elementary School in Marysville. But my fascination with poetry really took off in high school and college. I wrote romantic lyrics for the girls I was dating. And I wrote parodies of classic poems in an attempt to impress my literature professor. Prior to Dr. Erickson’s lectures, I would arrive early to write a poem on the blackboard that would greet my classmates when they arrived. I gained a reputation for my wit and creativity. While escorting tours to Alaska and the Canadian Rockies during summer vacations, my penchant for writing humorous lyrics served me well. I wrote poetry for our farewell dinners.
Fast-forward 50 years. When COVID altered our lifestyles, new phrases like “sheltering in place” and “socially distancing” became incorporated into our daily parlance. We masked up before going out in addition to learning the importance of applying hand-sanitizing gel throughout the day. Lockdowns limited our normal activities. But gratefully, walking outside was never forbidden. As a result, my wife and I walked several times a week. In addition to being good for our hearts, it was good for our minds.
Enter Pioneer Park. Near to where Wendy and I live is an expansive forest of evergreen trees and well-maintained trails. When COVID first invaded, I would discover beautifully hand-painted rocks hidden on our walking path. It was like going on an Easter egg hunt. The stones were barely visible in the hollow of a decaying tree, at the base of a tree trunk or perched on a bench.
These commemorative stones typically included slogans like “Keep calm and socially distance!” “Breathe!” “You are loved!” and “Hope!” They were brief sentiments that invited passersby to walk on and look up. Sometimes the rocks offered a miniature portrait of a sunset or happy face.
And then it hit me. Even though I am not artistic with a brush, I love to paint word pictures. Why not pen a brief rhyme or an upbeat slogan on a brown paper bag and tack it to a tree on the trail? Hearing no objections, that’s exactly what I started to do. That was three years ago. And I am still doing it.
My most recent paper bag poem looks back on the pandemic in past tense. It simply says “What COVID stole left us sick but didn’t leave us poor.” Like many of my lunch bag offerings, it doesn’t actually rhyme. So, I guess you’d call them blank verse. All the same they are portraits on what is known as the poet tree.
Although I have attempted to keep my contributions anonymous, I’ve been caught a few times tacking a new poem to the tree. And now I’ve decided to publish the past three years of poems in a volume. Since my name will be on the cover, the bard of the forest won’t be anonymous any longer. The book’s rather unimaginative title is “Paper Bag Poems in Pioneer Park.” But the subtitle offers a clue to its practical use: “An Interactive Walking Journal.”
My hope is that the photos of the poems will inspire personal contemplation about how the message is applicable to those who read them. A blank page adjacent to each photo will provide space for the intended purpose of journaling ideas, resolutions, goals or tracking miles walked on any given day. Copies will be available at Island Books this summer as well as online.
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.