Talking trash with a little poetry

John Kelly
Columnist July 8, 2013

I think that I shall never see

poesy in bureaucracy.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Unless, that is, my trash must wait.

And then a poem is my fate.

Gerry Lynch of Gaithersburg e-mailed me awhile back, curious about an odd feature of the routine e-mail reminders sent out by Montgomery County’s Division of Solid Waste Services whenever the normal trash and recycling schedule is disrupted by a holiday. After the boilerplate about Tuesday being the new Monday and Wednesday being the new Tuesday, the e-mail always features a poem, like the one written by 19th-century Yorkshire poet William Wright (known as Bill o’th’ Hoylus End) that was sent out before Memorial Day. It begins:

O welcome, lovely summer,

Wi’ thi golden days so long,

When the throstle and the blackbird

Do charm us wi’ ther song.

It’s not every day you encounter the word “throstle” (a type of thrush), especially in an e-mail that also includes the hours of the Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station.

“My theory is that it is a nice little gesture from a frustrated English major, a way to brighten up our day,” Gerry wrote.

It turns out that Susanne Brunhart Wiggins was not an English major. She earned her degree in psychology. As an IT specialist in the county’s Department of Environmental Protection, she’s been sending out e-mail messages since 1999. “They were just cut-and-dried reminders,” she said.

Then Susanne started adding quotations that were relevant to the specific holiday that had disrupted the collection schedule. Finally, she shifted to poems. She scours the Web looking for ones appropriate to that particular holiday or season: a bit of John Quincy Adams before Presidents’ Day, or some summery Emily Dickinson before Memorial Day.

“It’s just kind of a fun thing to do,” Susanne said. About 22,000 subscribers have signed up to receive the alerts.

“Every now and again I get a new subscriber who writes back asking, ‘What is this poetry at the bottom of my announcement?’ ” Susanne told me.

Most people seem to like it. After all, how often are we exposed to poetry?

Once, Susanne included a New Year’s-themed poem. “This subscriber wrote back and said that he liked it so much he took it to a party, and they read it there. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s quite unexpected for something I just tucked at the end of a trash and recycling reminder.’

“It’s sort of taken on a life of its own. Now I can’t really not put it in.”

Here’s the poem — a haiku by Kobayashi Issa — that Susanne included in last week’s Independence Day reminder:

Summer night—

even the stars

are whispering to each other.

Or perhaps that’s the sound of raccoons in your trash can.

Birds of a feather...

Evelyn L. Haught of Falls Church has been following the controversy over the moniker of our NFL team. She’s been a Redskins fan for 45 years and says the name “casts a shadow.”

She has a suggestion. “I believe the name can be changed while simultaneously highlighting its venerable tradition to hunt and win,” Evelyn wrote.

Her idea: Change the name to the Washington Red Hawks, after Buteo jamaicensis, a.k.a., the red-tailed hawk, a bird native to our area.

“This noble bird could be wonderfully rendered as a logo on all team uniforms and merchandise, and the team could retain its beloved colors,” Evelyn wrote. “In the hands of a talented lyricist, the team song could be rewritten…to reflect the bird’s winning ways. Best of all, its fierce, screaming call as it attacks its prey could be a crowd-rousing sound to replace the tom-toms in the song.”

And there’s the natural avian rivalry that would arise whenever the Red Hawks played the Eagles or Falcons.

Whaddya say, Dan Snyder?

Send a kid to camp

Hawks are just the kind of animal the campers at Camp Moss Hollow encounter. The summer camp for at-risk kids from the Washington area is a place where nature can be experienced in all its myriad glories.

Washington Post readers provide financial support for the camp. To donate, simply go to washingtonpost.com/camp and click where it says, “Give Now.” Or send a check, made payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, Family Matters of Greater Washington, P.O. Box 200045, Pittsburgh, PA 15251-0045.

john.kelly@washpost.com

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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