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Creative contributions sought for UCC’s “literary map”

There are many unique locations around Upper Canada College, and not just obvious ones like the clock tower or the Peacock Arch. Some are much more subtle, and the school is asking for student input to catalogue them through prose, verse, sketches and other creative outlets that will be posted on a website.

Upper School English teacher Julian Bauld addressed the boys in Laidlaw Hall on Monday and eloquently asked for their involvement this way:

“During the first week of school, on one of those days when we all eat hamburgers outside in front of the oval, I was looking for a place to sit. Being slow, I was late and saw that most of my colleagues were already sloped on the grass, seeming almost ornamental to an already beautiful day, and engaging in their first conversations of the school year. I didn’t want to interrupt. For a quick moment, I thought of joining some students, but the moment was quick indeed and I wandered away with my plate of food and stood in the shade and watched from a distance, the day unfold a little a more.

“It was cool in the shade. Literally. Perhaps you know where I was. In front of Grant House there is a tree, so old and broad, with branches so thick and reaching, that grass can no longer grow beneath it. And the tree itself is hardly a tree at all anymore, with a trunk that looks like rhino hide and roots that must extend well beneath the basement of your principal’s home. I had stood here before. I knew that. But on that day I chose to look a little longer and wonder a little more about what was in front of me. I can’t tell you the name of the species; someone else can. I can’t tell you who planted it, but I suppose someone knows that as well. I can tell you, though, that it pleased me to recognize it for those few minutes.

“Yes, it pleased me. Strange, huh? To be pleased by a tree. I am sure it is not reciprocal, but I can make peace with that. I thought of two things that lunch hour. First, I realized that even after spending about 15 years here, there are so many things — and by that I mean objects — that I have not really seen.  And, second, I was reminded that seeing is much different than looking and requires a balance of reflection and attention.

“There are many poets who write about trees. There is of course the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ in Genesis. Robert Frost has his ‘Birches’ and Philip Larkin sees trees  that almost break into speech. Joyce Kilmer thinks that ‘she will never see a poem as lovely as a tree,’ and she is probably right. But as I stood in the shade I thought of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who wrote a sad poem about the sudden shock of seeing that a crowd of poplar trees had been, without warning, cut down and cleared, ‘not one spared.’  His sadness was doubled, first for the felling of the trees, but then for the those in the future that would never even know that anything had been there.

“So, where am I going with this? Why all the tree talk? Well, trees are great, but so are most things when you give them your attention. You’ve heard this before, but we live in an age that doesn’t make much room for reflection. We are moving fast, but I believe that reflecting is one of the things that we humans do best. It is important for us to give ourselves time to do this. Art is born from reflection, but so are the quiet thoughts that we may have, that steer us toward a more genuine self because they are untouched by anyone else.

“Hopkins — the poet I just mentioned, the guy who really didn’t like it when the trees got lopped off — chose to praise the world. ‘Praise’ is a strange word, but it is central to poetry and art. When we look closely and then tell someone about what we saw, we praise. When we choose to hold on to a memory, we praise some aspect of our life. It is a strange word and it takes a bit of courage to put it in action. But when it is in play, your world will get bigger, maybe more complicated, but likely more satisfying.

“This year, I was speaking with the Quiddity guys and we are hoping you can help us make a little more sense of this space we share together. What are the places — the specific places — that are important to you at the College? Is it the free throw line in the Lett Gym? A certain table in the LDH? Is it the old biology lab or the new one? Is it Fryebrook? There must be some place — one place — that you know is yours. We would like to hear about it in verse, in prose, in sketches — and we would like to build a web page that would harbour all of these spots. The more contributions we have, the better understanding we’ll have of who we are. So, don’t be a wimp. Get up one of these days, take a stroll and spend a little more time reflecting on where you spend your time. Your experiences here are real and I challenge you to record them and share them with your community.”

Bauld provided examples of what he’s looking for — with words provided by students Tor Kitching, Haydn Walker and Coby Zucker in three short literary pieces and a sketch drawn by student Osman Bari — to inspire the boys to act on their inspiration.

Bauld closed his speech by reciting a poem called “Success.”

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