The poetry box

poetry box


When celebrated poets Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar moved from Oregon to Raleigh in 2008, they brought a love of verse they wanted to share.

Laux, a professor of poetry in N.C. State’s creative writing program, had just the thing: A wooden box she could plant in her front yard and fill with poems for her neighbors.

“Take one,” she wrote on the front. And they did.

At first, people assumed the house was for sale, and that the box held a real estate agent’s description and price. “Then, they’d see it was a poem. And they’d look over their shoulders both ways to read it…and then they’d take it. It was very furtive. It would crack us up.”

It didn’t take long before people were going out of their way to visit the box. They left thank-you notes behind. They asked the couple about the poetry inside.

A year and a half later, “people rely on it,” Laux says. One regular dog-walker has his poetry fix down to a science, switching his leash to the other hand a step in advance so he can flip the lid and scoop up a poem without breaking stride. “It’s drive-through poetry!” She laughs.

Every Sunday, Laux puts a new poem in the box. Some are personal favorites, like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Assault, about the beauty of nature. Some reflect what’s going on in the community, like the one about the storm-tossed tree she gave out after a neighbor’s tree fell in a storm. Some highlight holidays or visiting writers, or the weather.

Why do people want her poems? “It makes people slow down for a minute,” Laux says. “To remember that they’re living in a totally miraculous world, filled with mystery and beauty and intensity. And we forget that, because we’re busy. Poetry says, no, stop. You’re in a world that is a huge mystery, and every moment is precious, and time is passing.”