Poem Booth

Phoning it in

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

For now, the empty phone booth in front of Bellingham’s Community Food Co-op is an abandoned reminder of a much simpler time—an era before cell phones rendered the bulky communication devices largely irrelevant, and too expensive to maintain.

While there’s no longer a telephone to be found inside the sticker- and graffiti-covered cubicle located directly to the left of the covered bulletin board and ATM machine on North Forest Street, a trio of local women—poets Shannon Laws and Summer Starr, and visual artist and writer Christen Mattix—are hoping to revive and refurbish the small space as a way for people to keep in touch via the medium of poetry.

With a simple goal of “creating something that enhances and promotes community,” the three plan to transform the derelict device into what they’re calling a “poem booth.” Every three months, they’ll choose a poem submitted from area scribes and highlight it in the interior of the kiosk. (Those wanting to submit their new works can do so by signing up for their newsletter online. If the volume of verse proves to be colossal, additional works will also be posted on their associated website.)

“We plan to mount a simple frame to hold the poem in the space where the phone used to hang, thereby transforming the site into a renewed medium of communication,” Mattix says. “We’ll put out our call for poems in January, and post the first poem in March.”

A Kickstarter campaign started at the beginning of December to raise the $300 necessary to remove the stickers and debris from the booth and install weatherproof hardware to protect the poems has already raised its desired amount, and Mattix says further donations received by the deadline date of Christmas Eve will be used to provide cash prizes to poets whose work is chosen to be highlighted.

“One of our ideas down the road is to also offer a stipend to local artists (including street artists) to paint or transform the booth so that it’s not just a rotating poem booth, but also an art exhibit,” Mattix says.

While they’ve already received permission from the Food Co-op to “adopt” the booth, Mattix says they’ll wait until the holidays have come and gone to spruce it up. They’re anticipating using a lot of elbow grease and paint to make it shine, but are confident that, between the three of them, they have the talents to give it a new life.

Once the poem booth is finished, Mattix, Laws, and Starr will monitor it on the regular, and will deal with any vandalism on a case-by-case basis. Generally, though, their wish is that shoppers and passers-by will use the sidewalk space as a way to bring beauty and inspiration to their lives, not slap stickers on it.

“Hopefully,” Mattix says, “our makeover of the poem booth is a neighborly act that brightens a stranger’s day, carving out a little more space for community.”

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