I grew up in Portland and always thought that message board over the Galleria MAX stop on Southwest Morrison Street—you know, the one encased in a bronze whale tail—was really cool. What can you tell us about it?—C.L.
In a way, C., your question is a testament to TriMet's high quality of service: If they'd only made you wait a bit longer for the MAX each morning, you might have noticed the sculpture introduces itself every 10 minutes or so. (It's also a testament to how stoned you are, since you never noticed the identifying plaque that's sat under the thing for 30 years.)
The sculpture, Keith Jellum's Electronic Poet, was created in 1984. That makes it pretty damned old by the standards of things whose name begins with "electronic"—any earlier and it'd have been something like the "Versifying Reckoner." (Nowadays, of course, it'd be called the "eBard" or something equally horrific.)
Jellum's other public works include the 10-foot bronze fish smashed through the wall above the downtown Southpark restaurant. ("Oh my God, they killed Nemo! You bastards!")
Given that we now live in an era when it's possible to say, "Siri, dump my girlfriend in a way that lets me keep the key to her beach house," it's probably important to emphasize that Electronic Poet does not compose the poetry it displays.
Instead, it displays a 10-minute program of curated verse designed to be changed every six months or so—though honestly, this schedule does not appear to be religiously observed.
As mentioned above, these programs often begin with the introduction "I am E.P." Since E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial came out in 1982, possibly the Poet's name was a play on the then-recent sci-fi blockbuster about another technologically advanced being with a wide, flat head. Possibly, but I hope not.
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