A country road leads to these words: If you have a dead poet inside you, reanimate it here.
Walk through the front door, look up and you’ll be greeted by that message at the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry, alias ROMP.
Never heard of the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry? It’s a different animal than, for instance, the American Poetry Museum in Washington, D.C.
The American Poetry Museum shares a city with the White House.
ROMP occupies a little red shack. And, truth in advertising, it’s rural.
Squirrels are visible from a road (paved until the very end) that leads to the museum. Cows roam in an adjacent pasture.
Visitors are sometimes greeted by friendly dogs. One of them likes to sit throne-like in a golf cart used for poetry-themed scavenger hunts.
Don’t be scared of the lizards that zip in and out of sight. They’re part of the ambiance. If any bad critters invade ROMP, somebody will chase ’em away. Otherwise, everybody is welcome.
“It has been difficult getting people to come out there because we are out in the middle of nowhere,” museum creator and caretaker Shaun Perkins said. “But when people do, the feedback is wonderful. People have a great experience out here.”
“Out here” is Mayes County. ROMP (less than an hour’s drive from Tulsa) is about 10 miles east of Chouteau or two miles west of Locust Grove — and just this side of noble goal.
“What I’m trying to do — as you can probably tell from some of this stuff — is just get people to rethink what they feel about poetry, because there is something in it for everyone,” Perkins said.
And that’s important because?
“I think it can really enrich your life,” she said.
“I think it really has a lot to offer you in terms of how it can make you feel more deeply and think more deeply. It just shows you the connections between your world and the actual world and people. It has got everything in there. Way back in the day, poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world. That’s what (Percy Bysshe) Shelley said. That was a couple of centuries ago, but it’s still true that you can find a lot that is useful in poetry. It’s in you.”
It’s certainly in Perkins. She said she has been into poetry all her life.
“I actually had a dream one night where I had a poetry museum and had machines in it,” she said.
The machines in her dream dispensed poetry and helped people create poetry. She followed up on the dream (never mind the machines) by converting what once was her father’s work shed into a poetry museum.
Perkins’ intent was to create an interactive destination “and it would be kind of odd and there would be a lot to look at and think about and not really know what you think about it.”
Part of Perkins’ back story, and therefore the museum’s back story, is she likes weird roadside attractions along Route 66 and elsewhere (she can tell you “wow” stories about the Glore Psychiatric Museum in Saint Joseph, Missouri). ROMP isn’t on Route 66, but it’s an easy detour, and folks from all over have popped in to explore.
Warning: This isn’t your typical stop-stand-stare museum. Perkins said those museums are fine. She likes to visit them sometimes.
“But that’s not what this is about,” she said. “This is about creating an experience for people.”
Almost every step of the one-room museum has a different to-do station.
Ever play poker poetry? It’s a real thing.
Just beyond the poker table, visitors are challenged to take an item out of their pocket and write a short poem about the item. There are lines about Junior Mints and foreign currency and a tax-exemption card.
Peggy the Personification Pig is a traveling display item. Take the plastic pig with you somewhere, have her do something human-like and post a photograph.
There’s a cat metaphor corner of the museum, because cats often pop up in poetry. Another corner is the “secret corner.” There’s a solitary chair in the secret corner.
“You have just got to sit there and decide what it’s about,” Perkins said. “There are a lot of things to look at and consider back there.”
String together words starting with the same first letter at the alliteration altar.
Or write a poem inspired by a Craigslist advertisement. Mentions of wrought iron and chester drawers in ads led to a poem about “Rod” and “Chester.” Perkins posted ads for a glass banana and an electric chair and a $3 bath mat in which the price is inflexible, but the seller is flexible about traveling to meet the buyer somewhere.
“There’s just got to be a story in there doesn’t there?” Perkins said.
There are poetry records and poetry books and a poet phone (you may get a call from a famous poet, sort of) and postcards from all over the globe and a display of autograph books and, hey, what’s up with those doll parts?
“I just like weird dolls,” Perkins said. “They don’t really have a specific function in here, although there is a poem about a Barbie doll up there.”
Kids love an activity station where you build poems from blocks with words scrawled on them (or you can write poems on the blocks). Kids also love the treehouse outside, which can be accessed by way of a 16-step staircase. A treehouse (renovated many times) has been in that tree since Perkins’ grandfather built one there in the 1920s.
Adults might consider a stay next door at a writer’s cottage (yes, that’s a real typewriter on a desk) or a nearby poet’s retreat.
Is there a real need for a Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry to exist? Perkins said anybody who likes poetry — or is dragged there by someone who likes poetry — will have a good time. She’s taking a one-woman show (“Poem Life”) on the road to help spread the word about ROMP, and she’s hosting a Rompfest from 2-5 p.m. Saturday, April 4, to celebrate national poetry month.
Perkins told a story about two women from nearby towns who discovered ROMP. She looked in a window 30 minutes after they arrived and saw that they had the look of being mesmerized by their surroundings.
Perkins didn’t interrupt. She let them be and came back later for her own reward.
“This is one of the great things afterwards,” she said. “After an event, or after people have been here, I love to come here and see what they have written. You leave your notes everywhere and leave little poems on sticky notes. You can write on the walls. So that’s fun to come and see.”