Ruth E. Walker
I love old sayings. They’re like echoes of little stories, scenes that happened long ago and stuck around like a cautionary whisper through the ages.
A stitch in time saves nine. Somebody procrastinated into a real mess and the deadline for that edited version is at midnight..
A change is as good as a rest. When you can’t take a vacation, move your computer desk to the opposite wall.
There’s an old chestnut I really like: One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. And it has never been more true when it is trash that finds its way into poetry and visual art.
I recently attended a poetry reading and artist talk at the Haliburton Highlands Museum. A poet and an artist were coming to Halls Island Artist Residency and the program was part of their community engagement for the residency.
The poet was Anna Swanson, an award-winning Newfoundland poet and the visual artist was April White, also an award-winner from Newfoundland whose watercolours have been shown nationally and internationally. Both Anna and April live in St. John’s, and in 2016 joined forces for a collaborative work about garbage.
Anna Swanson wrote The Garbage Poems, inspired by a swimming hole in Flatrock, Newfoundland. She loves being in the water — as someone with a chronic illness, she said moving in water gives her physical and emotional freedom. Anna also cares about nature, so she started picking up garbage left behind by other visitors to that swimming hole. Sorting the garbage at home gave her a chance to look more closely at the trash. Beer cans. Fast food wrappers. Chip bags.
Lo and behold, that garbage was covered in words. Expected words like drink vitamin antioxidant burgers soda fresh and so on. But the unexpected words were intriguing to Anna: festival, dream, promise, stormbrewing…she even found the word trigonometry.
Well, that did it. She realized she just might have the making of some found poetry, using only the words on the trash. Anna ended up with a poem series titled The Garbage Poems. But she knew there could be more to this series than words on the page.
In 2016, she teamed up with artist April White after seeing her stunning exhibition “A Day in the Life.” Watercolours, drawings and texts chronicled one full day in April’s life.
Their collaboration became the perfect match of poet and visual artist. April created watercolour images for the poem-inspiring trash (and subsequent bags of trash as Anna continued to visit various swimming spots.)
Finally, Matthew Howlett, writer, artist and web designer, created an interactive website that invites visitors to create their own poems using the words found on Anna’s trash. April’s renditions of each piece of garbage can be viewed individually. Click on the image and all of the words on that piece of trash appear below for you to take them to create poetry of your own. You can even choose the entire set of all the garbage words, in both official languages, and see where that takes you.
If Anna’s trashy treasures don’t inspire you, the website has a copy and paste option, where you can take a piece of random text and then by deleting, rearranging or repeating, you can create your own found poetry. Here’s the first two lines of a poem I’m working on from the words of an 1860s book on etiquette:
The true language of a heart
may not enter a crowd gracefully…
Okay. Not yet genius. But it was fun and perhaps the start of an idea for me to work on.
So now it’s your turn. Visit The Garbage Poems website and read Anna’s poetry, view April’s images and see if you can turn trash into treasure.