by Teresa Yatsko, Hospicare volunteer
This chair created by Hospicare volunteer Teresa Yatsko is being offered to all as a place to sit and relax, read the writings of others, or consider your own writing as a way of joining the effort to bring people together in the joy and healing power of the written word. Stop by our Ithaca grounds and enjoy! Below is Teresa’s amazing story behind the chair.
The Poet-Tree chair project involves offering a space for people to write poetry and to leave behind their writings for others to read and perhaps be inspired by. There have been seven Poet-Tree chairs placed around Tompkins County to date. I’ve enjoyed the many thrills and benefits of finding notebooks filled with poems and thought-provoking reflections from people of all ages over the last few years.
Recently I’ve been encouraged to share my story. My intention is to share part of that story with you in the hopes that you might consider creating your own unique Poet-Tree chair space and to incorporate the concept into your setting. My current goal is to write a small book describing my experience and I am looking to include how the concept I’ve developed can be adapted.
Here is some background as to how this poetry project came to be. A few years ago, I began carrying a small notebook and pencil in my pocket when I hiked in the woods. I started writing short poems and observations about the moments I was encountering. The more I wrote, the more I began to to think about all the people who walked along the same trails and wondered what they had observed, what their experience had been. What if hikers were encouraged to observe their surroundings and then had the opportunity to write a simple poem? Would they?
Around the same time, while on a hike at the Roy H. Park Preserve, I saw someone had left a simple chair made from tree branches in the gorge where the two streams meet. I took a seat and reflected on the beauty around me. I loved the idea that someone had left the chair behind for others to enjoy. Something compelled me to take a photo of the chair. I’m glad I did because a few days later when I returned, the chair was gone. I don’t know what happened to it, but I was determined to make another one and put it back where the original one had been.
As I was building the chair I had the idea of placing a notebook with it where people could write about what they saw or what they were experiencing while they were sitting in the chair. I bought an inexpensive dry bag and inside put a notebook, pens, and short explanation of my discovery of the original chair and the inspiration it sparked. I encouraged people to sit in the replicated one, to relax, and to write if they felt moved to do so.
A few friends of mine and I hiked into the gorge and assembled the chair. Each of us wrote a poem. I hoped our writing would prompt others to write. A few days later, I discovered several entries had been recorded by fellow hikers. There were simple poems and beautifully detailed observations of the natural world. Entry after entry began to appear over the weeks. I felt incredibly inspired. During the next month I would make six other chairs and place them along the hiking trails of Tompkins County.
As the months went by and I read more of the writings, I became deeply moved by what was happening. People were using the chair to not only write fun and creative poems, but also to write down snapshots of their lives in that moment. Many of the writings were quite profound. People expressed gratitude for the opportunity to stop and reflect. Many felt a connection to others who had written in the book. It seemed as if a very special community was being formed by having this shared experience of writing while in the Poet-Tree chair.