A few years ago I found some milled lengths of exotic hardwood in the gravelled shoulder of my commute home. Of such material I am something of a hoarder, so I happily strapped the pieces onto my courier bag and peddled on my way. The wood rested for at least two years on a shelf in my shop, until at last I found their purpose: Poetry.
As a reader and occasional writer of poems, I decided to put together a poetry box to be able share with my neighbors what I find to be true and challenging. I cut and milled the pieces to dimension, finger-jointed the corners, slipped the glass display into place, and to keep the weather out, capped the box with a little gabled roof. Secured to a post next to the driveway, my little house of uncommon thoughts awaits. And waits.
Walkers must go out of their way to reach the box, and from the street must actually duck through a cable fence. In the first year, the only visitor appeared to be one who would steal the contents sometime in the night, always careful to replace the roof. I would fill the box the next day, and a few nights later, the poems would be gone. I was feeding a hungry literary creature of the night.
Inconspicuous and slightly inconvenient though it is, the box is finding it’s public. It can be found on an electronic map of poetry boxes, and those who routinely seek it out let me know it feeds them, too.
I thought of this little story as I read David Friedlander’s question at the end of his Life Edited post, Why Americans are Crappy Sharers. Although the article highlights some depressing figures alluding to the tenaciousness of good old American materialism, it cuts to the other side of the matter as well. Americans—people—want to share of themselves. We desire to be involved and live interconnected lives. Friedlander asks “Can people change their behavior—sharing for example—without dire circumstances forcing them to do so?” I would argue from experience, yes. But we might have to stretch a little to do it.
The poetry thief does not come around anymore, or if he does, perhaps he’s found an ingenious method of taking without stealing.