We had been parking at the 201 West Madison Self Park in downtown Chicago for years, when all of a sudden, pretty much exactly a year ago, it turned into “The Poetry Garage.” Now each floor of the garage is dedicated to a different poet.
On the one hand, I think it’s a neat idea to give patrons a poem to read while they’re waiting for the elevator, or let them remember that they parked on the Emily Dickinson level. On the other hand, I still think it’s an odd idea because parking and poetry really don’t go together, at least not for me. Because of this garage, I’ve tried to put them together, I really have, but it just doesn’t work for me.
In the beginning, they also played an audio recording of that level’s poem in the elevator vestibule. I would try to concentrate on listening to the poem, but either the elevator clanged before the recording was finished, or it had begun in the middle, or the poem was altogether too long to be listened to in the few seconds the elevator might take to appear. Those recordings ended up going on my nerves. I know this sounds odd coming from someone who loves poetry, but waiting for the elevator, when I’ve just parked my car and am clearly on an errand, just isn’t the proper time to enjoy a poem. For me, poetry is a contemplative pursuit, ideally enjoyed when the house is quiet, and I am in the frame of mind to wrap my head around words. I want to be able to get into a poem, and I just can’t do that in an elevator vestibule.
I don’t know who at Hammerschlag & Co. Inc., the company that manages The Poetry Garage, came up with the idea. I do appreciate that they are honoring poets, even if it has to be in the most mundane of urban venues, a parking garage. At the very least, perhaps, it makes people aware of poets they might not have heard of or rediscover an old “friend” they might not have read since high school. Perhaps people go home and look up Carl Sandburg or Billy Collins. Perhaps they wonder, like I do, why these particular poets were chosen. Thankfully, though, the garage has done away with the annoying recordings, and so, if the elevator takes a long time, and no other patron is chattering on his cell phone, even I can enjoy a stanza of Emily Dickinson’s “Success is Counted Sweetest.”