Pumpkin Patch? No, Poetry Pods!

Photo from the BBC

This is the time of year when my eye is easily drawn to an orange glow in the early evening’s darkness. So I really couldn’t help following this photo to the BBC’s website. I thought perhaps it was a story about a Stonehenge replica made out of Halloween Pumpkins.

But no! The treats here are all literary. You’re looking at a cluster of illuminated tents that speak recorded poetry to passers by – a collection of old and familiar works mixed with lesser known poems – all about love, enhanced by a soundscape and a variety of physical locations along the coastline of the U.K.

The idea is that visitors will walk among the tents and overhear the poetry fragments coming from inside the mysterious, glowing enclosures.

If you watch the video you’ll hear Irish actress Fiona Shaw, a collaborator on the project, say that she hopes people will come “with a bottle of beer in their hand” and “not speak too much to their mates – just listen.”

What are the chances that people will just listen to words coming from an invisible voice if they are in the company of others they can see and talk to directly? In my experience, it’s not likely – the pressure to carry on a conversation is too great. The one exception would be if you and your friend think you’re hearing something that was not meant for you, and if you speak you might give yourselves away.

That would be the one thing I’d change about this poetry pod project – if you speak, the recording goes quiet and then gradually returns to full volume only if you remain silent.

A reward for eavesdropping!

What is the most memorable thing you’ve overheard?

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53 thoughts on “Pumpkin Patch? No, Poetry Pods!”

  1. At first I thought I had nothing to offer on this question, then I remembered this story. Our family was driving in eastern Washington state, which can be quite a desolate place, when we needed gas. I filled us up and staggered into the station to pay, walking tipped over because the wind was howling.

    In the station some woman was on the phone. She was about 60 with unkempt hair and many layers of clothing. Her cowboy boots had made a trip to the barn that morning. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but this woman had a voice like a bugle. Everyone in the store got to hear her half of the conversation. Which, since it is long, I’ll put it in a separate post. I will apologize once for the bad language and the length of this piece. I’ve actually cleaned up her language a bit.

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    1. “Naww, she didn’t know nuthin! I know it sounds weird, but Sally didn’t have no idea!”

      (there was a pause while the friend on the other end of the line talked)

      “Well, you know Sally takes after me. She’s always been a little . . . ahh . . . chunky. The way it happened . . . Sally was working with the pipeline crew Thursday when she starts gettin’ these awful belly pains.

      (pause)

      “Yeah, that’s what I mean. SHE DIDN’T KNOW! So she tells the crew boss she needs to see the doc. So the boss told this skinny little shit from Mexico, you know . . . don’t speak no English . . . to drive her to the clinic.

      “Sally says, ‘Doc, you gotta help me. Last night I had me too much tacos and beer, and now I got a bellyache like you wouldn’t believe!’”

      (pause)

      “So the doc checks her tummy and then he starts fooling around . . . you know . . . down under. And Sally says, ‘Doc, that ain’t what hurts! It’s my belly.’ And the doc says, “Sally, you don’t have a bellyache. This is apparently news, but Sally, you are pregnant!’

      And Sally, she goes, ‘Doc, you’re crazy! I’m not pregnant.’

      And the doc, he says, “Okay, Sally. My mistake! But listen up good, girl—pregnant or not—you’re in labor! You better get ready to have a baby, because there’s one is fixing to show up any minute!’”

      (pause)

      “I know, I know! Now, when I had Sally, I had to carry her around for nine months, three weeks and three days. But Sally . . . she finds out she’s pregnant, and—kapow, whsssst!—half an hour later she’s got a little girl with this big head full of dark hair. Shortest damn pregnancy I ever heard of! You got any names to suggest?”

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  2. Good morning. I do remember one conversation I over heard at the local hardware store that sticks in my mind. The guy who runs the hardware told a customer that he thought his wife would be happy with the set of kitchen knifes he had bought for her. The customer was a local farmer who is know for making outrageous statements. His reply was, “if she is happy about this it will be the first time that she has ever been happy about anything I have done”. I’m sure that wasn’t the reply expected by the hardware man, but he probably was not too shocked considering that farmer’s reputation for making dramatic replies.

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  3. i am going crazy these days overhearing all the stuff that comes into whoevers brain has a cell phone in their hand. i guess i am too private to simply yell into the phone in the midst of a public area i was at macphail the other day with my mo waiting for my daughter to finish her lesson and the waiting area is by the elevator with couches that sit in an area above the waiting area on the floor below. i was working on my computer and the person downstairs in the waiting room was talking with a friend who obviously knew her sister and the news about her sister droned on and on and i couldn’t believe how unaware of the people around her this woman was. then my moms cell phone rang and the other end of the phone was lucy my moms old friend. well lucy had just not heard all the news there was and the new show at the bloomington art center they should go to and the new events at the place my mom lives at and the health issues that always good for a couple of minutes… and i had to leave. i cant stand sitting next to someone talking like the world is ok with listening to this. i am always tempted to start talking real loud to my imaginary friend who is wanting to have a better story than the person on the cell phone next to me. it isnt too hard the imaginary stories could trump the boring everyday stuff most people talk about. i could use steves story about the chunky woman who had a baby inside and didnt know. that would be a good one to let the cell phone discussion know how interesting it sis to hear other peoples stuff. gosh i hate that. i think i will start collecting stories to tell. maybe old bob newhart routines woud be good to archive in my brain too
    when i went to bob newhart you tube instead of a telephone conversation i got this. its too good to pass. jacque is looking for a male therapist. i think i could do this type of thing for her if this is what shes after

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    1. tim, I know a counselor who has to listen to people who are behaving badly and she has told me many times that she would like to offer the same advice given in that video.

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  4. Not overheard, but recently found: a little card from something that was clearly a youth event where kids (judging from the handwriting probably at least junior high age, maybe high school) were supposed to talk about courage and building community. This is the part on the card that haunts me, “I need to be my self and not only @ home but with my friend. I want to appagise to my friends for being mean to them.” It’s a small card, and was folded over twice. I found it in my yard while I was raking the other day. Guessing it fell out of a pocket or backpack. It seems such a common narrative for a certain age – but I still want to find this kid and wrap them in a hug and say yes, apologize, to yourself and to your friends, but first to yourself. You need to be able to be yourself no matter where you are – and that can take courage. And you can find that courage. And it will be good.

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    1. Oh, and now I want to create my own poetry pods…guessing it wouldn’t have the same effect in a small south Mpls front yard though. Still…it might be worth trying…

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        1. There are a lot of those tiny libraries around my neighborhood. I’ve thought about getting one – wasn’t sure if it would be good, bad, or indifferent that I’m around the corner from a “real” library…

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    2. Anna’s story reminds me that about 15 years ago I found a pile of peach-colored bits of paper, tightly folded over and over, blowing around on the asphalt of our alley. I scooped up a bunch of them and examined them. They were notes, and after reading a few I could tell they were notes written to God by some truly anguished woman. I somehow figured out it was Ann, a tall blonde Catholic woman who lived almost directly across the alley from our place. Her notes said things like, “Can I make him love me if I keep the house cleaner?” or “What is wrong with me? Why can I not be happy with what I have?” or “He finds me boring. I find me boring.”

      After a while I chucked the notes into the trash. It hurt too much to read them.

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  5. Some how it seems that people talking on cell phone often don’t know that they are speaking loudly. They can’t hear how loud they are talking because they have their ear to the phone and they may have raised their voice because they can barely hear the person on the other end. Also, they might be off in their own world and have forgotten they are in public. Some people have very loud conversations in public without being on a phone and sometimes it seems that they think this is okay because they are important people.

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  6. LIke Steve, I thought I had nothin’. Then I remembered the last year of marriage to wasband #1. He had been strange and distant since April but I was “giving him space” to “figure it out” (I was so non-confrontive that I didn’t even press to find out what “it” was). I was suspicious about a divorcee co-worker but didn’t have proof so I didn’t press.
    It was July and we were about to take off for our vacation to his family’s summer cottage in Ontario. The kids were in the car and I was taking out the last bags when I heard him on the phone. He was ending the conversation and one of the last things he said was “Me too.”
    To this day, I can’t think of a single other-side-of-the-conversation besides “I love you” that would prompt the response “me too”, when the goal was to keep someone else from hearing one’s response.
    The woman with whom I suspected he was talking is the shrew with whom he has now lived for at least 15-20 years.

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  7. Medora, ND has a cowboy poetry reading every Memorial Day weekend. It all rhymes and the crowds seem to really like it. I don’t think the cowboy poets would want to hunker down in pods, preferring the wide open spaces.

    As a young child I overheard lots of things i wasn’t supposed to, things that were scandalous or gossipy, said by relatives about other relatives. I guess I looked uninterested, or other-worldly, or as too young to understand, but I was all ears and to this day I know more about various family members than any of my cousins, things like drinking binges, shotgun marriages, alcohol induced religious hallucinations, domestic disputes, etc.

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  8. The most memorable thing I ever overheard was confidential and involved someone I worked with for more than 12 years. That employee never returned to the workplace after that conversation took place. I have been privy to many such conversations in my job over the last 18 years. They are very memorable and I won’t be writing about them.

    I overheard a conversation while shopping in a thrift store last week. I was moving quickly through some of the racks, looking for very specific items. As I moved, a young couple seemed to be following me. The young man was jabbering almost constantly. I was able to shut his incessant chatter out for awhile, but it soon became impossible. He was supervising her clothing choices! “No, that’s ugly.” “No, that’s too low cut.” “No, that’s too frilly.” I glanced at her over the clothing racks. She glanced back at me. I thought to myself, ‘Lose him, honey,’ and kept moving. They kept following. “Will you move in with me?” Very eager, very intense. She was murmuring her answers and I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I glanced at her again. She glanced at me. “I’ll get all that stuff out if you’ll move in with me.” Another murmured reply. I was done shopping and decided to leave. “No, that’s ugly. Move in with me.” I thought she should dump him on the spot.

    I thought about it while waiting for my brakes to be repaired. Should I have asked her if he was making her uncomfortable? He was fairly intense. He would have made me uncomfortable. But I would have told him to go take a flying leap off a very short dock.

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      1. Cb, when I click the link I get a message that says “Can’t find the server.” Please double check your link.

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  9. I am Not answering this question, Dale. I told the story of a memorable overheard conversation here and was accused of being a criminal and jailbird. *sniff, sniff* I’ll never be able to convince the baboons of my innocence.

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    1. Edith, we know you are just covering up the story of your past, but we are willing to over look the things you have done during your years of participating in certain activities.

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  10. Cannot remember anything that interesting. In all my time in airports and on planes you would think something sticks in my mind. I overhear in coffee shops, etc. too much mundane stuff in too-loud voices. Was just at B & N and was stuck listening to the coffee shop manager sitting right beside me grilling a new employee on steps and recipes, which then turned into an employee review of sorts. The new employee and I were embarrassed but not the manager. I suppose she assumed it was all right for a regular customer to overhear it.
    How about a visual eavesdropping, which I was thinking of yesterday for another reason: a few years ago we went up to a suburb for a baptism, grandson of a judge friend of ours. But the noise and scents in the church drove me out to sit and wait in my car. I noticed a 3/4 ton extended cab pickup with a “W” license plate, which means the driver had a DWI issued. I was idling thinking about a “W” plate in a church parking lot and how I could interrupt that, just for something to think about. Was he being a hypocrite; was it a good thinking for him to be there, was he reforming? Idly wondering about a “W” plate on an over-sized truck. It was all a distant issue of no relationship to me.
    Then the service ended and out came an uncle of the baptised child. He got in the pickup and drove off. A a son of the judge, a bad diabetic, which changed how I know wondered about that “W” plate. It was suddenly very personal.

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  11. But I will post: I thought of this when writing the other one above. This is my favorite overheard conversation, 35 years ago before I became a pastor.
    A very successful pastor/writer/teacher from our congregation was scheduled to come back and do a service. He was in his early 80’s. It was widely publicized in town for 2-3 weeks before he came. But the Wednesday before he had a stroke and could not come. Our pastor was going to be gone so I was asked to do the sermon and another man was doing the rest of the service. I decided to sit with my family in the congregation near the back since our children were still rather small. Two elderly ladies, not members of our church, had come to hear their classmate speak. They were seated right behind us, talking in loud voices before the service started. Because the church had a tradition of being quiet before the service started, almost the whole church could hear them. They were bragging loudly about their classmate, then one of them noticed in the bulletin that he was not going to be there.
    The other one asked very loudly who was doing the sermon.
    The first one said, “Someone named Clyde Birkholz.”
    The other said with disgust in an especially loud voice. “Clyde Birkholz! I sure don’t want to hear him.”

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    1. Funny.
      I had many thoughts. I wanted to see their faces when I stood up right in front of them, but I did not turn and look. They were so red in the face when they came by me at the door to shake my hand.

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  12. Two examples of myself being overheard:
    1) High school, I know we have a sub in this class and as I’m walking into the room I’m telling a friend in the hall that we have “…some dorky sub.” I walked in and the substitute teacher is right there. Looks at me says “A what? A dorky what?” I just went and sat down without saying anything.
    2) Just the other day. The computer at the college theater running our lobby photo reel has stopped, again, for yet another, update. I let loose with a string of profanity about it (sorry) and the secretary says “Tch- Tch- Shush!” and there’s the president of the college standing in the door getting tickets for the play.
    I don’t *think* he heard me… but he’s a good guy and would have laughed at me having that bad of a day. Still, I’d hate to be caught by the boss like that.

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  13. I have been trying to post since about 5pm. My internet has “interference,” that is what they tell me. Thank you Dale. Good day for poetry and an inspirational project. I often spend time on city buses learning waaay too much about personal lives. I was able to read today’s blog early in the morning and was reminded of this poem by the tim’s story and Jim’s comment about cell phones.

    Bridal Shower

    Perhaps, in a distant café,
    four or five people are talking
    with the four or five people
    who are chatting on their cell phones this morning
    in my favorite café.

    And perhaps someone there,
    someone like me, is watching them as they frown,
    or smile, or shrug
    at their invisible friends or lovers,
    jabbing the air for emphasis.

    And, like me, he misses the old days,
    when talking to yourself
    meant you were crazy,
    back when being crazy was a big deal,
    not just an acronym

    or something you could take a pill for.
    I liked it
    when people who were talking to themselves
    might actually have been talking to God
    or an angel.

    You respected people like that.
    You didn’t want to kill them,
    as I want to kill the woman at the next table
    with the little blue light on her ear
    who has been telling the emptiness in front of he
    about her daughter’s bridal shower
    in astonishing detail
    for the past thirty minutes.

    O person like me,
    phoneless in your distant café,
    I wish we could meet to discuss this,
    and perhaps you would help me
    murder this woman on her cell phone,

    after which we could have a cup of coffee,
    maybe a bagel, and talk to each other,
    face to face.

    by George Bilgere

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    1. Nice, Nan, good to hear from you; it’s been a while. The lady with the blue light on her ear reminded me of one of the teachers at the alternative school where I worked. She had that damn phone on hear ear always, even when she taught class. She taught art (obviously using the term “taught” very loosely), and the students, knowing that she wasn’t focused on them or what they were doing, availed themselves of the opportunity to decorate the classroom walls with graffiti. Drove me nuts.

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      1. PJ good to be here. Linda and Edith, glad you enjoyed too. This non-Connection is frustrating, I have to keep attempting to submit and then get “page cannot be found” and then lose the msg if I have not copied it!!

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  14. Once I had a message on my answering machine that sounded like someone whose cell phone had accidentally activated. It might have been someone who had me on speed dial, but I didn’t recognize the man’s voice. It was a short message – I distinctly heard him say, “Gas is up to three ninety f**cking five a gallon. Jesus Christ.” And then the call ended.

    That was a while ago – I think it was the first time gas prices went that high. (Times are better now – $3.23 for me today.)

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  15. I was just reading an eavesdropping story about Charles Babbage, one of the great minds of the 19th century, one of five men who can be said to have invented science as science. Also, the man who designed the first computer, a mechanical operation.
    In the London papers of the 19th century lovers used to communicate by way of letters in the newspapers in codes. Babbage, who was a code genius, used to for fun decode the letters and post letters showing them he had done so.

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  16. One more sort of unintentionally overheard:
    On my cell phone, there was a long message. It appeared that someone had butt dialed my phone while in a doctor’s appointment. The woman seemed to be about to have a colonoscopy! She was complaining at length about the prep instructions. “On the first page of the instructions it tells you that you can have clear liquids including Gatorade but NO red liquids. I went out to purchase supplies for the prep with the shopping list provided. On THAT list, it didn’t mention the prohibition against red and I bought the wrong kind. You should really fix the instructions so that the warning against drinking red liquids is on the first page AND on the shopping list.” She went on and on.

    I do believe it was wasband’s shrew girlfriend. I don’t know why she has my number on her phone.

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