Aat least once a week, Chris Cook uploads a photo to Facebook that features an unusual sight he encountered on one of his long walks in his Browne’s Addition neighborhood. Perhaps it is an elegant vintage car parked by the sidewalk, or a joke scribbled in chalk on the sidewalk, a striking piece of mid-century architecture or a ‘an admittedly phallic rock formation that Cook playfully nicknamed Bonehenge.
Each of the photos is captioned “I love my neighborhood” and tagged “#onlyinbrownes”, and there are now over a hundred individual posts. Cook, the current Spokane Poet Laureate, says the ideal subject of a “I Love My Neighborhood” photo is a landmark or found object that is unusual and perhaps even confusing – something that is distinctly the addition of Browne.
“Maybe I went through it for years without stopping and thinking, ‘I know exactly what it is and how stupid I am that I didn’t notice it the first time around,'” says Cook.
And once he started keeping his eyes peeled for weird sights, they seemed to appear in all directions.
“I was like, ‘It doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet,’” says Cook. “And all you have to do is look at your feet or over your head. Anywhere. It’s all around you.”
These walks and the resulting social media posts sparked the idea for Cook’s new poetry project, a series called In the neighborhood, which is funded by Spokane Arts and encourages others to explore their familiar surroundings in the same way and write a poem about it. Spokane Arts is accepting submissions until February 12, and selected poems will eventually be included in a print collection.
This is of course not an unprecedented project. Cook mentions several local poets who highlighted specific regions of Spokane in their work and who influenced his own poetry – the poems of Thom Caraway on West Central, Dennis Held on Vinegar Flats, Tom I. Davis on Peaceful Valley. Anthony Brighton also commemorated Browne’s addition in his poems.
What is different In the neighborhood, however, is its community angle and platform that will allow other Spokane residents to reflect on the uniqueness of the streets they live in.
“As a Poet Laureate, you always have in mind that you would love to do a signature project,” Cook said. “And so I’ve been thinking about it probably from day one, when I wanted it to be something that was important to me, and to show my pride in my city, and for others to show that same pride.”
“I think Spokane considers itself a smaller city than it is,” says Mika Maloney, Spokane’s arts program manager, who was excited about the project when Cook approached her. “We’re a city with these different neighborhoods and areas, and there are some interesting things happening all over the city, things worth noting, writing, and reading.”
In a way, this is a distinctly COVID-era project, Maloney says, as many of us have been confined to our quarters for months at a time.
“You go for walks on your own, [taking] many of the same routes and less engaging with the whole city like many of us normally do, ”says Maloney. “So I think this project is where people are right now, but we’ll also end up with a collection of some interesting, fun, and good-to-see poetry later.”
Quotes for In the neighborhood started arriving at the end of 2020, and Maloney says they have already received labor from as many children as they do from the elderly who write about the neighborhoods where they have spent most of their lives.
“We receive poems from published authors and from people we know as poets and writers,” says Maloney. “We also get poems from people who may never have submitted poems before or who have never written a poem before. Maybe they write a ton of poetry, but they don’t share it with anyone. beyond their family or loved ones. friends. ”
Cook hopes these writers, whether veterans or newbies, find new ways to enjoy their own hangouts, just as he stumbles upon the unique charms of Browne’s Addition – of its century-old mansions that have been turned into apartments, to the paving stones of the side streets which recall a time before automobiles.
“I love the fact that long after we’re gone, a neighborhood identity can remain,” Cook says. “I also love that they can run the gamut from Mr. Rogers’ vision of a neighborhood to the one depicted in the Tom Waits song that gave me this project name. love in both is just expressed very differently. “♦
To view poetry settings and submit your own poem, visit spokanearts.org/opportunities/in-the-neighbourhood-poetry-project.