ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Kathy Chilton knows what it’s like to stare at a blank page.
For more than 30 years as a calligrapher, she’s seen her share of stark white pages. They can be intimidating. One thing she’s learned is that it takes time and patience for something beautiful to reveal itself.
This is the premise for “Kathy’s Poetry Box” – a box that sits outside her North Valley home, blocks away from Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. It’s a chance for visitors to pause, a chance to inspire others.
“It’s amazing to me how many people have left poetry in the box,” she says. “There is something new every day.”
Like many community lending libraries across the country and state, book lovers have adopted the “take one, leave one” motto.
Chilton’s has paper, a pen and nearly a dozen poetry books in the box. The paper and pen are there for anyone to write a poem, or they can take or leave a poetry book.
It’s a spin on something old, yet it’s new to the Duke City.
“I don’t know if there are any others like this in the city,” she says. “I know it brings me joy to be able to have this space for the community.”
Albuquerque Poet Laureate Jessica Helen Lopez says poetry isn’t going anywhere, meaning it will live forever as a medium, a vehicle for creative expression and a vibrant form of identity and means for social justice.
For instance, Lopez says, slam poetry has been a force to be reckoned with for the past 25 years. Now, more than ever, youths across the country and globe align themselves with the fiery expressive genre that is spoken word.
“Poetry exists in the everyday music of our lives. That individuals stoke the fire of muse, as does Chilton and others like her, is only proof that certain guardians and purveyors of poetry will forever be passionate about creating spaces and opportunities for others to write poetry,” Lopez says. “Good for Chilton, who works to create safe spaces and gatherings for writers and poets to commune. This is extremely important work.”
Inside the box sit the works of A.A. Milne, as well as John Burroughs, waiting to be read. Then, there are handwritten poems from an Emily and a Sara, both passers-by who have managed to bring a smile to Chilton’s face with their written works.
Other poems elicit a more thoughtful response. One anonymous poem reads:
“I had a hard day.
I lost a good friend (or three).
I stepped on my dog paw.
Then I fell over her toy.
I miss my mom.
I worry worry worry
Then it ends with “Thank you Poem People. Now I’m not so …” with emojis for sad, mad, crying.
Chilton says she writes but doesn’t consider herself a poet.
“Poetry was something that I didn’t get into until recently. It’s a different medium that carries a lot of impact.”
“Kathy’s Poetry Box” is new to the neighborhood – sort of.
The box was a Christmas present from her husband, Lance, who constructed it late last year. The couple had to wait until the ground defrosted before they installed it in their front yard.
Before “Kathy’s Poetry,” Chilton used to staple or nail poems to the wooden telephone pole in the corner of her yard.
There the poems were in the company of “Lost Dog,” “Yardwork” or “Found Cat” fliers. With the box, the poetry has a permanent home. The pole propping up the box also has a poem on it, which Chilton did with calligraphy.
“I used to put poetry for children towards the bottom of the pole,” she says. “That was more than a year ago, and now I’m happy to have a home for the poetry.”
Chilton thinks the wooden box provides a different type of outlet for the community.
“It just seems like it would be nice to have something really positive,” she says. “I admire the talent tremendously, and there are some really professional poets who live in the neighborhood.”
Chilton would eventually like to see poetry boxes pop up around the city. She gets inspired by reading the poems and wants the movement to grow.
“What I realize is that everyone can be a poet,” she says. “We all have stories and this is a way of expression.”
As for Chilton writing her own poetry, she simply smiles and says, “I’m not a poet, yet.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Assistant Arts Editor Adrian Gomez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.