There isn’t any defined pattern to rout/e, in terms of how many poems are planted a year, or whether I return to (and document) the poems regularly, or what the poem and the poem-on-its-stand experiences, loosely considered as what/who interacts ‘with’ the poem, via its outdoor location. During this past year, given constraints related to CV19, trails and ‘desire’ paths have been explored and created by people much more intensely than I’ve ever seen — evidenced by a deepening of the surface of the trails, trees marked with flagging tape (I can presume for trails or off-trail exploration), and in a anecdotal sort of way locally, more talk of place and maps and trails than I’ve heard before. I don’t know if there has been an increase in folks stopping to read the poems (or passing by and seeing the poem as an object) as some are a bit off the trails, to the side, or obscured seasonally by various elements like snow, foliage, downed trees, etc.
I wouldn’t claim that placing poems on a trail changes the environment — environment being more a concept, a system for categorizing, than a specific method of expressing how all biotic/abiotic species respond to geography, locale, natural features, and each other while developing their own methods of surviving and adapting, in long or short term ways. There are many elements that I find intriguing about rout/e, such as seeming responses to the poems — others moving them or removing them, or physical or conceptual consumption of the poem, and by extension, the myriad things that disrupt, re-signify, and fracture any attempt at a directed gaze; the effects to the page that shift the writing and the poet’s initial work –an increasing transparency of the paper over time, language obliteration and fragmentation through atmospheric and other impacts (what I like to call ’emergence’ (not erasure)), and reflection and glare from the nearby materials and forms; a compelling emphasis on duration, interval, lingering and return within the physical and conceptual spaces of the environment — what lasts and how is it lasting? We receive and attend to information within outdoor environments in vastly different ways than how we receive information digitally. One could take the poem-on-its-stand as another kind of screen — although “filter” works better.
rout/e as a project, and the planted poems of various contributors, is the focus of in a creative essay I contributed to Geopoetics in Practice: edited by Eric Magrane, Linda Russo, Sarah de Leeuw, and Craig Santos Perez (Routledge 2019). From the editor’s introduction:
This collection approaches geopoetics as a practice by bringing together contemporary geographers, poets, and artists who contribute their research, methodologies, and creative writing. The 24 chapters, divided into the sections “Documenting,” “Reading,” and “Intervening,” poetically engage discourses about space, power, difference, and landscape, as well as about human, non-human, and more-than-human relationships with Earth. Key explorations of this edited volume include how poets engage with geographical phenomena through poetry and how geographers use creativity to explore space, place, and environment.
The essays in this collection have accompanied me quite a bit this year, as I consider rout/e, the poems that various poets have contributed (which, as far as I knew or imagined, were/could be still standing), and future plantings. On this website, there are earlier posts about each; this is by way of an update:
rob mclennan‘s poem, “Situated along various trails in a similar fashion,”, planted in 2011, has been moved three times and seems to be permanently embedded in a cedar tree above a footbridge in the Marlborough Forest. The poem was planted along a fairly well used path to begin with, but over the last year, even over this winter (if tracks in snow are anything to go by), there is an increase in the number of folks using the trail. Someone has scattered bird seed along the footbridge which, while it likely has had the effect of more obvious chickadee and nuthatch gatherings near the poem, may also result in one seeking the bridge as a destination and a place to pause. If one pauses, one tends to attend to other sensory aspects: breath, sound, visual components, temperature, even one’s own thoughts. The poem is still quite readable, with moisture providing patterns that language doesn’t mimic well, and the physical presence of a sun-mark mid-page is ever present. The sound of the creek varies depending on the season.
George Bowering sent a fairly direct poem, “A Little Montreal Sonnet”, a decade ago. I placed it at the Ferguson Forest Centre, and then it was moved. I refound it, placed on the other side of a narrow bridge, on the marsh side of the trail, facing an easterly direction. Trees obscured it some of the year; in winter, it cast a good shadow and was much more clearly visible. This trail was not well used; the rickety bridge and the overgrown path of cattails and ragweed/goldenrod acted as a deterrent for most walkers, and a decade ago, the housing development across the road was a nascent build; its main perk being the golf course that was built to abut the development. But now…well, the bridge has been replaced, stone has helped foster a built culvert from marsh to slow creek; the trail has been cut back and chips distributed. Via this trail, you could connect to another trail that runs in an E/W direction. It used to be near impassable at one time, but now is easily accessible to the subdivision folks across the road.
One morning this fall, I found the poem uprooted and laying along the trail. As I was with a friend, I walked by it and went back later to scoop it up and replant it elsewhere. I don’t usually do this…but I felt that Bowering’s poem would do just fine in a new location in the FFC — this time, it’s facing S, toward the St. Lawrence and onward past this fluid border-non-border to the USA. The St. Lawrence is another kind of trail. This winter, snow shoes made the most obvious tracking toward the poem. Behind it is the remnant of, possibly, a tree blind. The remnant could be used as a small, rickety bench; as such, it leans up against a red pine as if there’s a ball dugout, or perhaps it’s the bench for an outdoor reading.
Linda Russo‘s poems, “Daynotes on Fields & Forms (Flittings)”, planted in 2016, are spread out along the Earth Star Loop in the Marlborough Forest as a sequence of five poems. They are resonant pieces that acknowledge human observations of species (incl. human) relationships and they anticipate, in their pacing and layout, the processes involved in pausing and attending. Two of Russo’s poems continue to be eaten, and, when I saw them last, deer tracks circled one of the poems, which had been planted on a rise amongst junipers and birch trees.
Phil Hall’s poems, planted last spring along a section of the Rideau Trail, near Perth, were missing from the trail on my last hike in that area. The remnants of stoves and other farm implements were clearly evident, even if mostly covered by snow…and there were more people on the trail than I’ve ever encountered. During the hunting season, the trail is closed to walkers, and I didn’t get back to it until recently. In that time period, the poems were uprooted and placed in a careful group, at a wire gate that fronts the trail. Clearly, someone felt that someone else would come and collect them… They’re currently hanging out in the garage — there are plans afoot for another planting or variation thereof.
Eric Magrane’s poetry was planted at Baxter Conservation Area in 2015 as a series of 3 poems. They were were spread out — placed along one of the trails and also into the nut grove that appends, across a small bridge, the Conservation Area. Looking at photos reminds me that I experimented a bit with these pieces and used transparencies and, for one poem, a curious blue vellum. What remains is his poem “the sky frames” — at the edge of the nut grove, toward a small mixed forest, toward river edge. Caught beneath the plexi is a hemipteran, as suggests the entomologist (not me). The font? Well —
Hiromi Suzuki sent me “A Swimmer” in 2015. Earlier this winter, as ice had formed solidly enough that one could walk the track S between the marsh, I ventured out for both a hike and a check on her poem. The long anticipated housing development (evidenced by a decade of survey, “for sale” and pipe-infrastructure) is built. But the track that goes south, and much of the Scotch line that goes west, are mostly unaffected, for now. The approach has certainly altered; the scrub, marsh, and limestone could make for some interesting pooling, perhaps, down the road. Her poem was gone, except for a piece of plexiglass and the stake, which endures. Another kind of survey mark.