Wordsmiths on wheels

Poetry: The Poetry Bug's visit gives some students a hands-on literary experience

April 09, 1999|By Young Chang | Young Chang,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Stethoscope in hand, Mary Parmentier told 11-year-old Max Fowley to take a deep breath.

"Oh, there it is, right there, right on your collarbone," she said, stepping back as she declared him infected with the "bug" -- the Poetry Bug, that is.

Parmentier, wearing a lab coat, and her sister, Christa, call themselves EMTs -- "emergency metaphor technicians."

They conducted the whimsical examinations on the playground at Boys' Latin School, one of three area stops on a nationwide, promotional Poetry Bug tour.

The gimmick is their more-than-metaphoric means of transportation: a white, 1999 Volkswagen Beetle.

The bug is covered with Magnetic Poetry words for children to arrange as they like, for better or verse.

Promoting the car and the literary-minded magnet company, along with National Poetry Month, the Parmentiers visited Harford Day School in Bel Air and Boys' Latin's Lower School before parking in late afternoon outside the Enoch Pratt Central Library downtown.

Fifth-graders in Barbie Reeve's English class at Boys' Latin, fresh from completing a major unit on poetry, clustered around the sleek Beetle.

Grabbing the word magnets nearest them (a larger version of the original refrigerator-intended Magnetic Poetry) at random and turning them into poetry of a sort.

Poetry in this case might be in the mind of the beholder.

"He worshiped flying pig," was the creation of Kirk Brideloya, 10.

What led to that particular turn of phrase?

"I just saw `pig' and I saw `worshiped' and I saw `fly' and it made me think of the phrase `it'll happen when pigs fly,' " he said.

Nearby, Peter Scheve, 11, saw the result of friends' stealing his sentence. He had formed "woman eat sausages together" and walked away for a second.

When he returned, it read "woman eat sausages together or my sister is green and she is smelling funny."

"Usually I have a small, little poetry day," said Reeve, their teacher. "But [the Poetry Bug] made it so we could really just take off."

In the tour sponsored by Volkswagen of America, Magnetic Poetry and Landscape Structures, a playground equipment company, three Beetles departed March 30 on routes beginning at San Diego, Boulder, Colo., and Boston. The Parmentier sisters took the Boston route. Before arriving in Baltimore, they made stops in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The routes take in 30 cities throughout April.

Kohnstamm Communications, a public relations firm for Magnetic Poetry, had initially proposed using Winnebagos as the touring vehicles. But Volkswagen was "really excited" about participating, said Christa Parmentier, and the idea of a "poetry bug" eventually grew.

The bug spread quickly yesterday at Boys' Latin, where the wordsmiths were awarded "poetic licenses."

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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