Poetrees manifesto

Poetrees manifesto

This video is a love letter to humans and trees. It is the simplest, truest expression my heart could come up with. This captures exactly what drove me to produce the Poetrees project – an invitation to create more joy in the world through the magic of our relationships with trees.

When I ask people to write a poem they often feel intimidated but for me poetry is just words from the heart.  Here are thoughts from 20 beautiful poets on the meaning of poetry. I love them all but this one from Salvatore Quasimodo stands out:

Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.

This is the bridge I hope to build with Poetrees from one human to another so that no-one need feel strange or alone in the depth of feeling they hold towards a tree.

Please share it with your networks either from YouTube: https://youtu.be/YkX0HgkNueE  or from the Poetrees Facebook page: www.facebook.com/melbournepoetrees

Poetrees is live!

sit with a tree, write a poem, share the tree-love, poetrees.net.au

Poetrees is alive! You can go to poetrees.net.au right now and read poems that people have submitted, you can visit their treasured trees and you can even add a poem and a tree of your own.

So now it’s your turn to become part of the Poetrees story. Sit by your favorite tree and write a poem. Know that we are listening gently, ready to hear the feeling behind your clumsy words. Tell us what you love about it. Tell us what your tree loves.

If your muse has deserted you and the words are stalling on your tongue, never fear! Here are a bunch of other ways to support the project:

1. Spread the word. ‘Like’ our posts, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, share our posts and tag people you think might be interested.

2. Tell us what you think. It’s tough sending a brand new baby out into the world, words of encouragement or feedback about how the site is working are very welcome!

3. Encourage other poets. Share the poems that are already up on the site with #poetrees, let them know how much you appreciate their work and show support for the courageous early adopters.

4. If you are in Melbourne, Australia come to a Poetrees workshop:

Flagstaff Gardens, 18 Feb, 5.30pm
Carlton Gardens, 21 Feb, 2pm

Poetrees is supported by the City of Melbourne 2016 Arts Grants Program.

Poetrees was created on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. We pay our respects to their elders past, present and future and to all people around the world who care for country.

Poetrees

The Poetrees seed has been lurking in the dark for over three months. We’ve been gently watering it with encouraging words, fertilizing it with our creative insights and learning from our mistakes. Over the past week a small tendril has been reaching for the sun as we test the prototype and make sure it’s all ready for your poetic words of tree love.

For those who are new to the project, Poetrees is a playful community arts offering that explores our connection with trees. Users will be able to submit a poem and a tree to the interactive map on our website so that others can visit the tree and read the poem.

I’m excited to let you know that after hours and hours of hard work from the team, the Poetrees website is almost ready to burst into the daylight!

We’ve done everything we can to make a joyful container for your tree-loving words. Next week it will be your turn to step out of the shade and share your poetree with the world.

We’re not leaving you out on a limb though! The important task of composing poems needn’t be carried out alone. We have prepared a series of poem seeding workshops throughout the Sustainable Living Festival to help you tend to your creative garden.

The one hour workshops will comprise a tree meditation and some simple writing exercises to help the creative sap rise through your limbs, onto the page and up to the electronic mycelial network (aka the internet).

Come to one or come to all three! Commune with trees and write poetry! Invite your friends and family, spread the tree love across our city. #inmelbcity #SLFAus #poetrees

Birrarung Mar, 13 Feb, 2pm
Flagstaff Gardens, 18 Feb, 5.30pm
Carlton Gardens, 21 Feb, 2pm

Listen, listen, listen to the birds

After the success of our crowdfunding campaign my partner and I headed up to norther NSW to learn bird language and nature awareness with American tracker, Jon Young.

A view of our campsite.

My first day of learning bird language was difficult and confusing. We were sent out to find sit spots with a simple instruction to observe tension vs relaxation in the birds around us. It seems easy enough but the diversity of Australian song birds, the high activity of spring and the amount of territorial aggression made it extremely difficult to weed through the complexity to make any sense of the whole.

The debrief with my small group felt long and tedious, the blind leading the blind, it was hard to know what to share or what to listen for. At the end of that first session though I felt like I was beginning to get a sense of what is ‘baseline’ behaviour as opposed to alert or alarmed. It seems that in the Australian landscape it is silence that speaks loudest! The bush is rarely quiet unless there is some kind of predator nearby.

The view from my sit spot for the weekend.

Jon was very clear that Australia is an unfamiliar landscape for him. He didn’t try to teach us about the specificities of the local flora and fauna, instead he taught us a process for engaging with the more-than-human and generating our own connections and understandings. In fact, I observed that he rarely asserted his own knowledge at all, preferring to tell stories that left us to join our own dots.

What we did learn though, after we had started making our own observations, was patterns for how birds communicate and what they might be saying. These patterns are not based on the specifics of bird evolution or biology but where birds tend to fit within an ecosystem. For example Australian birds will go silent when there is an aerial predator on the wing, just like birds in other countries.

I am already putting some of the processes we learned into practice. In my morning sit-spot (at Highfield Park) a pair of magpies landed 15 metres away and looked me over. Rather than staring at them like I usually do, I avoided eye contact and tipped my head away from them. The magpies walked closer, eventually crossing my gaze a mere 2 metres in front of where I was sitting. Having been a dog owner I am familiar with using body language to communicate with animals but I had never thought to try it with birds.

I feel like I have taken the first steps on a long and exciting journey! My knowledge and my sense of connection will only continue to grow.

Elegy for a row of poplars

Elegy for a row of poplars

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I understand the needs of civic offices
I know a dying tree can drop a branch
Or topple whole upon some hapless passer by
But my heart grieves for your passing.

You and your siblings were guardians of this street
Every morning you witnessed my passing
Along with so many other busy humans.

Tenderly you gave us shade
Releasing the breath of life
Even as you drank in ours
My heart is humbled by your generosity.

I hope in death you have the opportunity
To pass on your precious nutrients
That your spirit may live on through other beings.

I hope the one who cut you down
Opened their heart to your glory
And gave thanks for your magnificent life
As I do.

Letters to trees

I recently discovered that you can write letters to trees within the City of Melbourne. I work near the CBD so I have a number of favourite trees that I pass by most days.

To a colonnade of Deodar:

Hello my darlings, the flower and garden show is on again and so for several weeks I have to walk around the park and miss my morning guard of honour. I miss you all terribly. When I walk under the vaulted ceiling of your mighty branches my inner voice is hushed, I feel grounded and centred by your deep presence. In a matter of moments I pass you by but it’s only when I am denied this ritual that I realise the importance of the way you bookend my day.

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To a Moreton Bay Fig (pictured):

I sat among your roots and played ukulele for you the other day. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Your roots make an excellent place to sit.

To the grandma tree (unsent as it’s not in the City of Melbourne):

I long to lay my spine against your wide trunk again.

Sadly none of the trees have written back to me but I remain hopeful. If anyone from the City of Melbourne happens to be reading this post, I would love to volunteer my services to respond on behalf of the trees near my work.

He left his glasses in the trunk

He left his glasses in the trunk

Martin didn’t always love plants but he’d always been awkward. A slightly withdrawn child, in his own world, “Off with the fairies” his dad used to say. The words made him shrink a little as he slunk off into the garden.

He would have liked to be surrounded by friends but somehow, couldn’t manage it. Other children looked sideways at his quirkiness, it interrupted the flow of the ordinary. They didn’t quite understand what he was saying but felt shown up by it anyway. They covered their confusion by giggling behind their hands at him. He, feeling hurt, retreated further into his flights of fancy.

The trees were what brought him out. At first they were merely a backdrop, characters invested with his imaginings. Then, as he began to whisper his secrets to them, they became his friends. Finally, as the self obsession of adolescence gave way to a mature interest in the world, he found that trees have secrets of their own.

He developed an eye for green and growing things, noticed them everywhere and delighted in their determination. Moss-lined gutters, weeds poking up through cracks in the footpath, an impromptu garden in a long forgotten laneway. He was inspired by things that grew in adverse conditions.

For a time he buried the quirky, imaginative child under the weight of scientific enquiry. He dressed in brown and beige, wore his glasses high on his wide nose and focused on his studies. He never stopped speaking to the trees, though if you asked him he would have said he was speaking to himself.

It became his habit to walk each day by the river at Burnley and it was there he attracted the attention of a particularly ancient tree.

The tree was fond of the way Martin addressed her and her colleagues as so few humans do. She could feel the respect and admiration Martin directed toward them, and the tree, very slowly in the way of old trees, made up her mind to reward him.

So it was that one day Martin, frustrated at a failed experiment wished aloud that he could make things grow. The tree sighed with delight and Martin turned to see who interrupted his solitude.

There was no one there but Martin found himself overcome with dizziness. He sat abruptly as the whirling passed from his head and his whole body began to shiver uncontrollably. When the seizure passed, Martin sat up, gazing blearily at the world. It was then he noticed his hands. Gasping in amazement he held them up to face. They were quite green.

He pulled up his jumper to find that it wasn’t just his hands, his whole body was green. He thought it must be some kind of sick joke. For several minutes he stared up at the sky wondering about dye falling from above. The sky was empty as was the park around him. Shaking his head in bewilderment, Martin headed home.

In his small bedsit he headed for the shower. The green wouldn’t budge. No matter how hard he scrubbed, the water ran clear and his skin remained resolutely green. Martin felt sick, drying himself off, he headed for the kitchen. He busied himself, making a cup of tea, still shaking his head with disbelief, too preoccupied to notice the tiny buds of green popping out of the floorboards.

It was the tea leaves that alerted him to his new power. As the teapot steeped he brushed stray leaves off the bench into his hand. He turned to the sink to let them go only to find a handful of green leaves in their place. Martin shook his head, seeing but unable, unwilling to comprehend. He stood at the sink transfixed, staring at his palm in disbelief.

The tea leaves continued to unfurl, gently tickling his palm as they came to life. A movment at the edge of his vision drew his attention to the floor. He could see, precisely the path he had taken from bathroom to kitchen bench. Each footprint was now neatly outlined in bark, small shoots sprang forth and were just beginning to bud into leaves.

Martin quickly turned back to the teapot, letting the handful of leaves drop to the floor. Carefully placing the strainer, he took refuge in the ordinary ritual of pouring. Time slowed as he narrowed his attention to sugar and spoon, losing himself in the whirl of brown as he stirred. He resolved to finish his tea and take himself to bed, hoping that sleep would erase the insanity his senses were delivering to him.

Sleep came quickly but provided little relief. He dreamed of vines that reached for him, chasing him through the bush. He hurled himself at last against the trunk of a tree, climbing upward only to find himself sinking into woody fleshy. He struggled to free himself, shaking his arms but as they swayed, rustling the leaves over his head, he realised it was too late. The only trace of the man he had been were the glasses embedded in his trunk.

He was woken by music. Instinctively rubbing his eyes, he was relieved to discover he could move. He rolled out of bed and went in search of the melody’s source. It was not a sound that was captured by his ears so much as his heart, awakening a curious longing within him.

As he entered the kitchen the music changed, brightened and he was arrested by the sight of the flower pot on the window sill. The flowers didn’t exactly turn to face him but with a warm thrill, he could feel their regard. The song of welcome and gratitude emanating from the plant was the most beautiful thing Martin had ever heard in his life. In that moment he forgot his troubles. He reached for the flower pot and, cradling it in his arms, he sat on the floor and wept.

The music opened doors in his heart. Every petty hurt, every moment of beauty and gratitude, every grief and every love were woven into the flowers’ song. The plant’s previous life under fluorescent lights in a shop were woven next to Martin’s lonely childhood. Martin could feel his care for the plant mirrored back to him, amplified along with his own life story. For the first time in his life he felt understood, in all his beauty and complexity. “I see you,” the plant seemed to say, “and I know how you feel.”

Martin felt overwhelmed by the pull of belonging. Looking around the kitchen he took note of saplings, rooted in the floorboards and now reaching toward the ceiling. He found he could feel them too, yearning for life, for sunlight and rain. He threw open the curtains and turned on the taps, filling an empty bowl he slowly, reverently began to water the small trees. Their response was swift and joyful, Martin’s face was wet with tears as he surrendered to the beauty of their music.

*This story was inspired by Gary Hirsch’s workshop ‘Making art and giving it away.’ Read about my initial experience here.