The Power of Improbable Places

Poet Colleen Michaels is the brain behind the Montserrat College of Art’s Improbable Places Poetry Tour.  And this past Thursday, the improbable location for the latest set of poetry readings was Footprint Power’s recently decommissioned power plant on the edge of Salem Harbor.

Thunderclouds gloom over the quiet power plant.  Photo by me.

Thunderclouds gloom over the quiet power plant. Photo by me.

I was initially dubious and simultaneously drawn.  Having lived in Salem for over 4 years, just on the opposite side of Collins’ Cove from the familiar smokestacks, I’ve absorbed their shadows into the folds of my understanding of the local landscape, and grumbled occasionally about wind direction and sooty windows.  Like most people I know around here though, I’d never been inside.  Hydroelectric plants and windmills at Niagara and in the Netherlands and elsewhere?  Sure!  Coal and oil-fired behemoth in my backyard?  Nope.

So while I wasn’t sure what an evening of readings about ‘the work of power and the power of work’ would sound like, I was totally in for the chance to tour.

As it turned out, the readings were a fantastic variety.  Ranging from reflections on both the grit and the worth of daily grind to the concept of living on or off ‘the grid’ to poems inspired by this very power plant and the future of energy in the 21st century, the poems and poets offered a beautiful and thought-provoking set of mental images.

Check out more of the ‘cathedral of steel’ and its unusual evening occupants in the gallery below:

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Local poet January O’Neil also has a nice write-up of the event, where she too highlights one of my favorite moments: the reading ended, not with a headliner or a speech, but a moment of silence that was filled by a recording of the actual crackle-rumble-hum of the turbines when the plant was operating.  It was a very cool kind of ghostly and really made me want to go home and write.

In the meantime, however, have a draft of a poem inspired by my own workplace, and what it’s like on a festival weekend as the visitors are heading out and you’re waiting for that last performer to finish packing up their gear, thinking about attendance numbers and what you’ll put in your program evaluation come Monday…

8 days a week

By Meg Winikates

I tell myself it’s a good ache,
the dull burn in my heels that says
the miles I’ve walked circularly
over this granite floor have made
a lasting impression on me.

My calves recall the frequent dash,
sore hands avert another crash
ff child and chair, of floor and phone,
and whisking fingers vamoose trash—
rub buzzing ears, block joyous drone.

Duty’s done, but wonder lingers—
Did I meet just eyes and fingers?
Save one bad day, help one smile grow?
Made one growler’s heart a singer’s?
Or worn my footprints on this stone?
Enough would be one ‘yes’ alone.

Have you ever encountered poetry or art in an unusual place that helped you to look at it differently?  What places inspire you?