November 10, 2014

The Poet Tree

It's UP!

Yes, I am posing by an empty frame, attached to a tree.  Said frame was my $90 birthday gift to my 45 year old self.  

Side note:  how in the fuck can I be 45?  
It was constructed by Gord Harrison, woodshopman extraordinaire, purveyor of little lending libraries and swap boxes.

Let me provide you with some context.  In 2000, I was working as a Public  Librarian.  I wanted to share my love of poetry with library patrons - big and small - so I set up a rotating poetry exhibit at the circulation desk.  It sounds much grander than it actually was - the "exhibit" was a freestanding eight-and-a-half by eleven plexiglass display board.

The inaugural poem was November by Thomas Hood:
No sun - no moon! 
No morn - no noon - 
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day. 
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, 
No comfortable feel in any member - 
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, 
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! - 
I changed up the poems bi-weekly; the weather, holidays and current events dictated my choices.  Many patrons commented on the poems; they LOVED the poetry display.  It wasn't highbrow - there was no T.S. Eliot, people.  I deliberately chose accessible poems that would amuse and delight, and put a spring in one's step.  The library folk couldn't get enough... the poetry was better than SEX or CHOCOLATE or SQUEEZING A REALLY BIG ZIT.  Okay, it wasn't actually better than any of those things, but you get the picture.

I gave birth to my son in 2003 and my full-time stint at the library came to a screeching halt.  The poetry died.  A collective sigh was heard in the vicinity of Byron.

At this time, I was residing in the Blackfriars neighbourhood and that's when I had the idea of mounting a poetry frame on the Maple tree in my front yard.
I would bring poetry to the people through the magical Poet Tree.  And the world would smile upon the Poet Tree and it would be a better place.  And rainbows and unicorns and lollipops would fall from heaven, and poetry would rain down into the people's brains...  

I had a hungry beast attached to my nipple for the better part of the next two years, and then I became pregnant again, and then I forgot about poetry because I was completely fucking insane from my parasites / children.

Jump ahead eleven years to 2014.

The idea of the Poet Tree was still percolating.  It was time.  The city of London was poised for the power of poetry.  The denizens of the Willage needed poetry; I would bring it to them  :-)

The first poem to grace the Poet Tree was Headache by Shel Silverstein:

Remembrance Day was three days later, so naturally, I put up In Flanders Field.  My third (and last, unbeknownst to me at the time) was Spike Milligan's A Silly Poem.  

One week and 6 days after the frame had been installed, I was pulling into my driveway when I saw that the poetry box was empty.  I was perplexed.  Had someone stolen the poetry?  I can understand them stealing my scooter, but my poetry???

I found the poem jammed into my mailbox with a card and some chickenscratch scrawled across it.

I called Andy Beaton (Supervisor II - Forestry) and learned that a neighbour had complained.  I also learned that the City of London's Boulevard Tree Protection By-law (section 3.5) stipulates that "no person shall attach any object or thing to a tree upon a boulevard without written permission from the General Manager".  

The poet tree was being axed!

I called the paper and the Freeps came out the same day to do a story.  Here I am, making my best "mad face" at the urging of the newspaperman:

The poet tree and I made the front page!  And I'm currently the banner photo at with 132 comments:  Poet Tree Stands Empty.  I guess this is my 15 minutes.

I don't know what else to say about the idiocy of some individuals.  The tree will not die from the two screws that affix the frame to the tree.  I have planted more than half a million trees in my time (treeplanter in Northern ON and BC for five years) and I know the tree can withstand the frame.  My neighbour sums it up nicely:

I think the sadder part of this story is the neighbour who reported the poet-tree. He must be a very angry and pathetic individual - a far greater threat to society and the earth itself than a couple of screw holes in a tree. Most of us have much better and more progressive things to do with our days: like loving poetry and sharing it with any old passer-by! What a way to cheer up a winter dog walk or a hurried school-run!

It seems that while I have a lot of support for the tree, there are also many individuals who do not approve.  A few of my favourite choice remarks:

Poetry should be banned in London - along with self-promoting librarians.
My rebuttal:  Yes, I am promoting literacy and culture. So shoot me.

Ohh the drama! A neighbour who doesn't like me called the city, now the big bad forestry supervisor wants me to take my poetry box down, ruining it for everyone! Why should I have to follow the rules! Whaaa! Put an easel on your lawn with the box attached to it!
This just makes me laugh.

The tree is not yours Christine. It belongs to the commons. You damaged it. It's untenable. Does not give me joy to see trees damaged, but angers me. Stand out there and recite the poetry if you're so enthusiastic about sharing your joy.

I am picturing myself standing on the sidewalk with a bullhorn.

So the Poet Tree frame must come down next week, midweek, or Andy Beaton will come and remove it himself.  Bah.

And last night someone opened the box and scrawled the word "DOUCHES" across A Silly Poem.  I wasn't impressed.

Our solution (thanks to Miss Guinevere for the illustrations):

We will continue to spread literary love here on Bruce Street.  The word on the street :-) is that the box is here to stay.  It might not be attached to the tree in the future, but it will still be the Poet Tree.
The Battle Of Life
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

                                                                                                        Theodore Roosevelt


Part Two of the story:  Poet Tree, Part Two