News Poetry

Community poem heaps praise, love on Bristol

LAWRENCE MEMORIAL LIBRARY Director Coco Moseley, left, Bristol visual artist and poet Lily Hinrichsen and Bristol Trail Network Coordinator Porter Knight teamed up this winter to collect “Love Notes to Bristol” from area residents. Hinrichsen then took various lines from those notes and created an “Ode to Bristol,” which can be read across 38 lawn signs around town. Independent photo/Steve James

BRISTOL — As spring begins to reawaken the Vermont landscape, a new and unusual web of life has sprung up in Bristol.

It didn’t poke up out of the soil, soak in the rain and reach for the sunshine, but its roots are deep and well-nourished — with hometown love and civic pride.

“Love Notes to Bristol” is a crowdsourced poetry project, a web of life spun by dozens of community members, whose moments of admiration, cherishing and yearning can be read across 38 lawn signs around town.

The final product, an “Ode to Bristol,” is also available for viewing in a special display at the Lawrence Memorial Library.

“There are many other Bristols / but none can compare to you / My Bristol,” the Ode begins (see the full poem here). By the end, the Ode’s many voices have combined into one. “I hope that when I’m 92 we will still know each other / My Bristol.”

“This was an incredibly joyful project,” said Porter Knight, who launched and organized Love Notes. “It’s a wonderful mix of community engagement, placemaking and poetry.”

Love Notes to Bristol was inspired by a crowdsourced poetry project more than 1,000 miles away.

Last fall Knight encountered “Love Letters for the Midway,” a crowdsourced poem with individual lines printed on 100 lawn signs in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood of St. Paul, Minn.

Knight contacted the poet who wrote/assembled the final poem, Hawona Sullivan Janzen, and asked, “Can I copy you?” Janzen responded enthusiastically: “I hope everybody does!”

In January, after securing support from Bristol CORE and the Lawrence Memorial Library, Knight committed to completing the project by April, in time to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Meanwhile, Bristol painter and poet Lily Hinrichsen had been thinking about participating in two different annual celebrations of National Poetry Month — “PoemCity” in Montpelier and “PoemTown” in Randolph.

“Why not have a Poem Village in Bristol,” Hinrichsen asked herself.

Then Knight posted on Front Porch Forum that a new project, Love Notes to Bristol, was looking for a poet.

Hinrichsen responded immediately.

“I love community projects and I love Bristol,” Hinrichsen said. “I’ve lived here for more than 15 years, and I feel very at home.”

Lawrence Director Coco Moseley created a webpage for the project, where people could submit their love notes. Bristol architect Ben Allred designed a logo for the project. And Knight put out a call for submissions.

Love notes started pouring in immediately.

“When the webpage was set up, I got an email every time someone submitted online,” Knight said. “For the two weeks that submissions were open it was happiness in my inbox.”

In all, 57 love notes were received. Some were as short as a sentence or two. Others were full-length poems.

Excited as she was to work with the submissions, Hinrichsen realized she would need a method.

“I was daunted and humbled,” she said. “I was holding other people’s words, their love. There were so many wonderful things and so many different ways they could be arranged.”

Hinrichsen printed out all the submissions, cut each individual line out with scissors and made a pile on her living room floor.

Then she played with various arrangements, rearranging them like a puzzle.

“There were 57 voices, but I wanted everybody to feel they could have written this in their own voice,” she said.

Hinrichsen chose the opening lines of the Ode from a submission by John Burbank.

“I loved the idea that there could be ‘many other Bristols’ but also ‘my Bristol,’” she said. “My Bristol” became the unifying theme.

Then, one day, Hinrichsen realized she was done.

Knight was impressed.

“I was just looking for a poet who would be willing to slice and dice the love letters and assemble a poem, but Lily was an amazing and dynamic partner,” Knight said. “She has so much creative energy and enthusiasm, and she was way more than just the poet who compiled the lines.”

With local funding and support from Bristol CORE, 5 Town Friends of the Arts, the Bristol Historical Society, Neat Repeats and Moseley and her staff, Love Notes to Bristol hired 802 Printing in Vergennes to print out the 38 lawn signs, each with one or two lines from the Ode.

Hinrichsen hired Kimball Office Services to print out a selection of Love Note submissions, which will be displayed in various windows in downtown Bristol.

“I love this,” Hinrichsen said. “I love to see the community come together, and for people you might not normally hear from say, ‘Hey, me too.’”

After two years of pandemic isolation, this project represents the “best kind of ripple effect,” she added.

“Maybe next year we’ll have a Poem Village.”

For more information about Love Notes to Bristol, visit lawrencelibraryvt.org/love-notes.

Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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