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Posted June 6, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Poetry project: Front Royal latches onto idea of decorating rest rooms

Poet Heather Davis
Poet Heather Davis stands beside framed poetry inside the women's bathroom at the Daily Grind on Main Street in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Aprons surround a framed poem
Aprons surround a framed poem in Around Your Kitchen on Main Street in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Natalie Austin -- naustin@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- This potty poetry isn't what the name implies, rude rhymes carved into stall doors and scribbled mischievously on walls.

Even though the venue is strange -- there's only one seat in the house -- these odes rise far above the plumbing, starting at the heart of each writer. In ladies rooms throughout the downtown area, the Front Royal Bathroom Poetry Project may make some linger a little longer at the mirror, skip a lipstick check to read a line or two.

After hearing about similar projects in Washington and other cities, Heather Davis, who leads her own creative writing group, decided it was time to bring some poetry to Front Royal's restrooms. She put out a call for poems from Warren County residents and received 25, some of adults, others from Skyline High School students.

"We thought in the bathroom, you have a captive audience," says Davis. "It's also putting art in a mundane, everyday space where people don't expect it."

The first round of poems are in ladies rooms -- men will get their bathroom poems in July -- and on the walls of shops with no public restrooms.

The project received the backing of the Front Royal Women's Resource Center, the Blue Ridge Arts Council and Downtown Front Royal Inc. Listhus Gallery, also located downtown, provided the frames for the poems.

A Bathroom Poetry walk was held in May, when all venues were visited and the poems read aloud. To Davis' surprise, most weren't the poets, but interested people who joined to experience the unusual trip to local restrooms.

"People were so positive," she says. "I was really surprised how open they were to it."

Merchants also were happy to have people milling about, some who may have never visited their shops and restaurants before.

The poems cover a variety of topics, from the sensual to the mourning of a death. They are hard-hitting in their economy of words.

"It's so condensed, it gets right to the feeling," Davis describes the genre. "This project is about sharing, communicating with people and putting them in that moment."

Nationally, poetry seems to be seeing renewed interest.

HBO has Russell Simmons' "Def Poetry Jam" and "Brave New Voices," aimed at getting teens interested in writing.

"Teens are just so amazing. Their emotions are just at the surface and poetry gives them a way to express themselves," she says.

They don't have to be polite, just honest to give their work authenticity.

Busy with the lunch rush, Herb Melrath, owner of the Daily Grind downtown, says he thinks the project will help bring people downtown. He admits he was a little surprised when he heard the poems would be displayed in bathrooms. The coffee shop owner soon warmed to the idea.

"I sort of like that it's being done differently," says Melrath. "It's something all businesses can do downtown."

In the Daily Grind ladies room is a poem, "To My Friend," by Carol Toba, who writes of missing a deceased friend. It's poignant with words that could express the universal loss of a loved one.

Across the street, Bunny Johnson, owner of Around Your Kitchen, displayed her poem in a wave of colorful hanging aprons.

"It seemed like a fun way to display poetry and it has brought in people," she says.

Food-related art, by local artists, also is on display in the kitchen store.

Johnson's poem is the smooth and sultry "Doing What You Do," by Skyline student Shelly Baker.

The poem begins:



Melt in your mouth like a kiss --

Doing what you do

Davis says she would one day like to have a Web site for the Bathroom Poetry Project and the poems and a map showing their locations in downtown businesses.

A new crop of poems will hit restrooms next month, and Davis is already excited about the response.

Some poems are dark, heavy, others light as powder. Poets aren't suppressed, Davis says.

"It's condensed. It gets right to the feeling connection."

Along with the Daily Grind and Around Your Kitchen, poems are displayed at the following venues:

* Delilahs -- "My Definition," by Felicia Hamilton, student.

* Element -- "Conjurer," by JoEllen McNeal.

* Hands to Create -- "Moving Picture," by Darcy Myers, student.

* Jeans Jewelers -- "Namesake," by Julia Campbell Johnson.

* Listhus Gallery -- "Ancient Messengers," by Robert S. Harding.

* Lucky Star -- "Hello, My Name Is," by Chelsey Jenkins, student.

* Ridgeline Designs -- "The Universal Cycle," by Britt Cupp, student.

* Royal Oak Books -- "A Puzzle," by Charity Gaile, student.

* Soul Mountain -- "Nature's Beauty," by Jade Rowe, student.

* The Mill -- "Young Ballerinas Rehearsing," by Jane A. Kane.

* Valley Finds -- "Something More," by Pamala Farley, student.

* Vino E Formaggio -- "Because Front Royal Is Our Paris," by Heather Davis.

* Wine and Duck -- "Ancestor Anniversary," by Lynne Lewis.

Call Davis at 622-2232 for more information on the upcoming Bathroom Poetry event.

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