Just off Highway 412, in the town of Locust Grove, the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry (also known as ROMP), invites you to get “In the Bones.”
That’s the theme for this year’s exhibition, announced jovially by the presence of a full-length skeleton draped over the entrance’s wire archway. Inside, visitors encounter over a dozen poetry writing prompts nestled in thrift-store-inspired set-ups. These are “poetry machines”: analog devices that rely on visitors to take the helm as operators.
This bright yellow, one-room wonder started with ROMP founder Shaun Perkins in 2012.
“I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen with it,” she tells me. “I just had the dream one night that I had a museum that had poetry machines in it. And immediately I thought, okay, well, we’ll make that happen. I wanted it to be like a Route 66 roadside attraction — partly that and partly just a crazy little museum that would inspire people in whatever creative ways.”
On one table, a handwritten note invites me to pick up a photographic slide and write a quick poem about the image it holds. From a vintage case I pull out a metal-framed image of a young woman posing in front of a 1950’s-era car. She has short, styled hair and wears a stunning plaid dress, complete with a full-length skirt and heels.
There are fragments like this all over the place: pieces of stories that have been found, like the slides, or some that have been intentionally left by other visitors. Their poems and musings are everywhere, tied in one instance to box springs that have been turned sideways. ROMP is like many museums in that the objects have been carefully considered and then placed. Like any good machine, each part serves a purpose.
Unlike many museums, however, there’s a “Poet’s Retreat” next door. The house, which originally belonged to Shaun Perkins’ grandparents, is listed on Airbnb and has regular…