Blue Chair Poetry Event – Text and photos by Via Perkins
As soon as I heard about this event from Michael Jaros, the professor I am currently doing a directed study with, I knew I wanted to attend. This was an artistic event with a goal of community building and generosity towards neighbors in rougher sections of Salem; it sounded like a great idea to me. On November 10th at around 3:15 PM, about 10 students showed up at the Jaros house, as well as a professional photographer from the area, and a neighbors and friends.
When we entered the house, everyone was able to see a number of blue chairs that Claudia Paraschiv, Michael’s wife, had painted. There were chairs of varying types, shapes, and sizes, each one having its own distinctive look. Before we headed out of the house, each of us selected a chair to carry, and we marched off as a quirky blue parade, to a nearby park called Mary Jane Lee.
The sun was setting with a beautiful warm light over the park, shedding on all of us who were gathered, and the tens of children that were already playing at the park when we arrived. We set the chairs down in a semi-circle facing a tree in the middle of the park, which every presenter would stand in front of to read either their own poetic work, or someone else’s.
There were about 10 readers in all. Only a few of us read our own work, including me, but most read from favorite poetry books. The listeners sat in the blue chairs, or stood to the side. This eventually included some of the children at the park, who gathered around, inquisitive eyes watching all of the new strangers. The photographer talked with them and let them see some of the images she had already taken.
After everyone had read, Claudia explained that the chairs were to be given as donations to the park. The benches that had been there previously had been removed, as well as a community garden paved over, because the authorities designated over part of Salem though they would attract the “wrong kind of attention.” (The area has been known for its illicit activities, including drug dealing, which sometimes takes place in the park.)
She wished to give back some of the beauty of the park to the residents in the area who use it. To facilitate this, Claudia handed out handmade, laminated nametags for each of the chairs. Each of us picked names for our chairs (I picked the name Everest for mine), and we were told to place them wherever we thought they should be placed in the park. Immediately, the children began inspecting and testing out the chairs, and it was heartwarming to watch as they took to them immediately. Overall, the event was quite successful, and it was a delightful afternoon sharing art and friendship with each other.