Rock on: Park art features poem

Years ago, when artist John Staple was in college, he was looking through a National Geographic magazine from the 1930s when he was struck by an image in a feature on China. “On one page, there was a picture of a poetry garden,” Staple remembered. The governors of the provinces had chosen poems to have engraved on pillars, which were installed in a natural setting. “It always struck me how it would be to be walking along in nature and come upon a poem on a rock.”

Staple drew from that memory to propose a piece of art in Bidwell Park, at Vallombrosa Way near the CARD center. At its April 28 meeting, the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission voted to approve the project.

“I believe the park is a work of art, so I have a hard time grasping more artwork in the park,” said Commissioner Jim Walker. “But the more I thought about it, the more moved I was by the poem and the concept.”

Staple didn’t speak at the meeting, but the News & Review talked with him the next day.

Staple, a potter and painter, will engrave the words of a poem on ceramic tiles, which will be set to a 6-foot-tall river-washed boulder he obtained with the help of Sutherland Landscaping of Chico.

Initially, Staple thought of works by famous poets such as Thoreau, Whitman or Emerson. But, with the Park Commission’s encouragement, he instead solicited poems from 12 local authors. He chose a piece called “Morning Song” by George Keithley, an emeritus professor from Chico State University whose poetry has been nationally recognized.

“I asked them not for flowery, romantic lilac poems, but poems influenced by numinous [awestruck] maturity,” Staple said. In Keithley’s poem “there’s innocence and depth combined.”

The project comes with a grant of about $2,000 from the city Arts Commission. Staple said the rock will be in the ground (its stability will be assured by city-hired engineers) by June 30, and there will be a ceremony including poetry readings.