Bridge and Poetry Walk

This recap is cross posted on Reading Local: Portland. Check out the great aerial photo of Portland’s bridges on RLP.

Event Recap: Bridge and Poetry Walk

It would be impossible to ask for nice weather than yesterday, for the first bridge walk of the 2010 season, led by Sharon Wood Wortman, author of The Portland Bridge Book, and leader of waterfront bridge walks for Portland Parks & Outdoor Recreation since 1991.

Assembling on the steps of the Northwest Natural Building (NW Second & Everett), we started our day by touring the Oregon Dept. of Transportation’s Traffic Management Operation Center. Webcams provide live feed from highways around the region, and on a good day (from the traffic standpoint), nothing out of the ordinary happens. But in case of an emergency, there is a control room equipped with a table where a bank of telephones pops up at the touch of a button, like something out of a James Bond film!

Then in the museum, Sharon gave us an abbreviated version of Bridges 101. We learned that there are three main types of bridges: suspension bridges (like the St. John’s Bridge), arch bridges (like the Fremont Bridge), and beam or truss bridges (the prevalent kind).And of the movable bridges, those also come in three flavors: vertical lift bridges, swing, and bascule.

Poet Sage Cohen then presented the first of our poetry moments, reading to us the title poem from her poetry book Like the Heart, the World. This dovetailed quite nicely with Judith Barrington’s Walking North, from the Oregon poetry anthology Deer Drink the Moon, edited by Liz Nakazawa. With that, we were ready to go out and face bridges. A short ride on MAX took us to our first bridge, the Morrison. Just as we arrived, we were able to witness the bridge being raised from above, and then a second time, as we toured the bascule pit. I will say that it was impressive (and not a little bit scary) to stand just feet away, and see the 940-ton counterweights lift the bridge!

We had another poetry moment, crowded there in the control tower of the Morrison, and then went out on the deck to see how many other bridges we could spy in the distance. Visible were the top of the Fremont, the Broadway, the Steel Bridge, the Burnside, the Morrison, the Hawthorne, and the OHSU sky bridge. There’s also the St. Johns, the BNSF Railway 5.1, and the Ross Island, but I’m not sure we could see them from where we were standing. Another ride on MAX took us to the Eastbank Esplanade, where we crossed back over the lower deck of the Steel Bridge, but not until after we got to see it lift as well.

More walking along the waterfront, more poetry, and a little demonstration of harmonic oscillation, as we all jumped in the air simultaneously on the pedestrian bridge leading to Union Station, eliciting a few strange looks from passerbys. To enhance the effect, Amtrak passed below us just at this juncture. Sitting on the steps on the other side, Sharon read us her poem, Supporting the Divine, while two volunteers demonstrated the principle of the cantilevered kiss.

This sadly is the last year Sharon will be offering the bridge walks, but you can still catch one of the three bridge walks (scroll down to “2010 Bridge Walks”) left this season. And there will be a PDX Bridge Festival running from July 24 – August 7 this summer, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Hawthorne Bridge. Finally, for all of you poets out there, Sage will present a free poetry workshop this Monday, June 7th from 11-12:30 at the Portland Chinese Gardens.

Salamander & Co. joined us to shoot a video of the walk, which hopefully will be available within the year.

8 thoughts on “Bridge and Poetry Walk

    • The only thing more fun than doing a poetry bridge walk, is to write about it afterward. 🙂 It was lovely sharing poetry with you on the bridge walk and at the Chinese Garden today!

    • An ODOT webcam– now that would be fitting! It is fun now that I’ve met you in real life, to match your words to a real person and not simply a computer-generated avatar. You are just as I imagined you– your real life voice matches your poetic “voice”. 🙂 Thanks for your nice note btw– the art of letter writing is a lost art that I for one would love to see revived!

  1. I’m glad to hear I’ve lived up to my “voice”! It’s hard to imagine that from the inside! Yes, I love writing letters…Let’s keep the tradition alive!!

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