Helen & Vine: The Poets Cottage Guestbook

Helen & Vine is a regular column that spotlights some of the oddities and lesser known objects and places within the Poetry Center.

When the Poetry Center celebrated in October 2007 the Housewarming of its home at 1508 East Helen in the newly erected Helen S. Schaefer Building, the doors were opened, too, on the new guest cottage--a fully functioning modern apartment--which continued a tradition that was part of the Poetry Center's founding in 1960. Thanks to the generosity of many, this fall we celebrate the rededication of the cottage as the Lois Shelton Poets Cottage, named for the Center's beloved director throughout the Seventies and Eighties. 

Since the reading series began we have welcomed approximately one thousand visiting poets and writers. This is where they stay, and may we see a thousand more. When they come, they often sign the cottage guestbook. Signing, for some, is just the beginning. We'd like to share here a few pages from the last nine years, since the book has lived in the cottage's living room at 1508 East Helen.

The first to sign was Lucille Clifton in November, 2007 and the recentmost page, is Aracelis Girmay's, eloquent and decorated with small blackberry  stains, her young son Alem's contribution, still fragrant and fresh, made yesterday. Most pages are like these, messages of gratitude. Some, like certain entries by Brenda Hillman and Gregory Pardlo are immediate and anecdotal and personal, perhaps more so than we feel comfortable sharing. But here are three pages of touching notes, from Clifton with thanks "for believing in this 'sullen craft,'" from Natalie Diaz, and from C. D. Wright.


Diaz's short take on the Objectivist standard there in the middle--"so much depends upon a red bike / chained to a tree growing up / and over a brick wall"--is a rather faithful depiction of what a poet sees in the small rubble garden outside the cottage's sliding glass door. The bike that is hers to ride around Tucson, and the growing Texas redbud that inspires several remarks in these pages, and not a few drawings.

Artists, and poets who clearly have a visual art practice, are responsible for some of the more standout pages. The artist and essayist Karen Green gave us a portrait entirely in blue thumbprints, Terrance Hayes dials up the poet in an intoxicating language bath, and just last month filmmaker Barbara Hammer and human traffficking activist Florrie Burke found the Saran wrap in the cottage kitchen drawer and affixed a page of "flakes 'n thistles, thistles 'n seeds" from their hike on Mount Lemmon.


And, of course, poets will be poets. Here are a few poems, or lines from poems, left behind. These pages, too, we treasure. Here is Franz Wright's "Roadside Grave, February" and lines from what would be Roberto Tejada's  "Mortar & Method" and a cento created during his stay by Rick Moody, from books on the cottage's private shelves.


We hope that they won't mind if we share their sentiments and art with you. We've loved having them, and it's nice to turn the pages and recall the differences they have made and continue to make, literary and otherwise. In the collaborated words of Mary Austin Speaker and Chris Martin (grown out of the flowering tree below--a double acrostic!), "yes, we too arrived and stayed forever."