For poetry's sake, they jumped in the lake
A dozen poets read verse — theirs and others' — and plunged into Green Lake on Saturday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
They came to put the "O" back in poetry.
Wearing bikinis or other swimwear, a dozen poets shivered in solidarity Saturday. The air was bracing, their hearts were racing.
One by one, they read their verse, keeping it terse. Then they plunged into Green Lake. For art's sake.
O, the goose bumps!
Event organizer A.K. "Mimi" Allin has organized other "guerrilla" art events. She sifted sugar onto Seattle sidewalks and asked, "Is it art or powdered sugar?" She read all of "Alice in Wonderland" aloud in a public park on Thanksgiving. She created the "running poets" and "poetry umbrellas" of Green Lake. And now she was leading the inaugural Poetry Polar Bear Club.
Allin, 41, who lives on a sailboat in Fremont, said she wants to make poetry fun, get it in the news, wake people up and bring together rival camps of "page poets and stage poets."
"It's not enough to write. You need that audience," Allin said.
Eleven others joined her at high noon, often invoking the word "crazy."
"I just want to jump in the lake with the other crazies," said Mark Pomerville, 48, an aerospace engineer who lives in the Green Lake neighborhood. He wore "tighty-whities" with poetry scrawled on front and back.
Others were just dipping their toes, so to speak, into the world of performance art.
"My life is pretty ordinary," said Tracy Day, 47, wearing a bikini and clutching a Thermos of peppermint schnapps. "I've worked for the Social Security Administration for 26 years. I ride the bus five days a week. I come home and watch TV."
Then the Green Lake resident saw the polar poetry event on Craigslist. "I said, 'It's time to create.' "
The Weather Service said the air temperature was 40. It felt 14 with the wind. No one brought a thermometer for the water.
Fortunately, one of the poets has a day job as a physician.
Dr. Clinton Bliss, 44, of Fremont, is chief of staff at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Walla Walla. He was dressed in a homemade swimsuit he sewed out of something that looked like a white shag rug. He read a poem about a polar bear "swimming, skimming bottom, bubbles beating time ... "
There is a risk, Bliss said, to jumping into frigid water. It's called vasospasm, he said. "The coronary arteries tighten up and cut the blood flow. If there already has been a narrowing of the arteries, it could precipitate heart attack or arrhythmia." When the last of their poems was read in front of an audience of about 25 people, the poets sprinted to the lake and dived in.
They came out beaming, even Allin, who lost a $400 pair of eyeglasses in the water. After a little hot chocolate, many of them headed for a friend's nearby hot tub.
"My parting message is that poetry is very much alive. I can feel its heart beating," Allin said. "Quickly."
Bliss drove off in his Honda Element, his terry cloth bathrobe belt hanging out the driver's-side door.
"There is poetry," concluded swimming poet Patrick Kent, of Green Lake, "to just living your life in a passionate way."
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 09:46 AM
Exxon Mobil wins ruling in Alaska oil spill case
NEW - 7:51 AM
Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.