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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 2, 2002

Poetry signs spring up on campus

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

The whir of a power drill fills the air in Dawn Woolsey's English class. Tape rips. Scissors flash.

Students carry around sheets of plywood that they've painted white, connecting them to tall, gray, wooden poles. The teenagers grin with satisfaction when the drill bit hits the wood.

Then they attach their poems.

"This is the coolest," said Lilinoe Kahalepauole, 16, and a sophomore at Kamehameha Schools, noting that there's no comparison between this hands-on poetry project and the rest of the poetry section the sophomores have been studying this spring.

As a surprise to celebrate National Poetry Month, a sophomore English class covered the winding roads of the Kamehameha Schools Kapalama campus with poems in the style of the Burma-Shave signs, familiar on America's highways from the 1930s to 1960s.

The class met on Sunday afternoon to adorn the school with poetry. There is one sign per line of poetry, so people can read line-by-line as they drive or walk the roads. The signs will stay up.

An old Burma-Shave sign read like this:

    Dinah doesn't
    Treat him right
    But if he'd shave

The poems by the Kamehameha Schools students deal with topics a bit weightier than shaving cream, but the idea is the same.

One of the poems on campus this week reads:

    Sweet fragrances of roses everyday
    blooming within you
    sensations of everlasting warmth

Woolsey said the idea of the project is to confront people with poetry and make them think.

She tried the idea last year for the first time and said she was inspired by the artist Christo, who rose to fame by projects such as covering the Pont Neuf in Paris in gold fabric and obscuring the Reichstag in Berlin in more than one million square feet of silvery fabric.

The project is also meant to brighten up the campus for the week of May Day.

Earlier this year, Woolsey had her students write and illustrate comic books. Only a few people in the English department knew what they were up to, though, with the poetry signs.

"We kept it a secret," Woolsey said. "We just sort of shocked the campus this year. We wanted to do something upbeat to wake everyone up while driving through in the morning."

Maile Soon, 15, said this assignment didn't exactly come with the kind of artistic license allowed in other assignments written for Woolsey's class. The students worked in groups to write the poems, enlarge them on the computer, print them out and decorate them with colorful images.

"Everyone had to come up with one line at least, and it all had to rhyme," she said. Still other groups received different instructions.

Soon said her group would have probably come up with something a bit less cheerful had they not been instructed to follow the rhyming form of Skeltonic verse, named after a 15th-century English poet.

"I think we would have done free verse and probably something depressing," she said.

Instead, their poem includes these lines:

    This silly rhyme
    Is taking up time
    Expanding my mind?

Lauren Fonseca, 16, who was in a different poetry group, said the hardest part was writing a poem that made sense after everyone contributed a line. "Everybody has a different style," she said.

Woolsey said she hopes to do the project again next spring with her next class of sophomores, but can't reveal when the next round of poetry signs will be posted.

It's a surprise.

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.