British Columbia

'I can be trouble': B.C. poet filled home with stolen flowers after cancer diagnosis

Canadian poet and novelist Brian Brett was told by doctors earlier this year he had only a 50 per cent chance of seeing another spring after being diagnosed with cancer. 

Award-winning poet Brian Brett wanted to be surrounded by beauty

Brian Brett is a poet and memoir writer, as well as former chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada. (www.brainbrett.ca)

Canadian poet and novelist Brian Brett was told by doctors earlier this year he had only a 50 per cent chance of seeing another spring after being diagnosed with cancer. 

So he surrounded himself with his favourite things: beautiful spring flowers.

"I just wanted to live to the fullest in the time I had left," Brett told Laura Lynch, guest host of The Early Edition

The man with the pruning shears 

For more than two decades, Brett lived on a 10-acre farm on Salt Spring Island, B.C., but he recently moved to Vancouver to be close to his doctors. 

He missed the natural beauty of the Gulf Islands.

"I always had so much beauty surrounding me there for 25 years. So it's a little tougher in the city."

Cherry blossoms in Brett's home. (Brian Brett)

Brett decided he didn't want to just look at flowers while walking around the city. He wanted to have them, even if they weren't his to take. 

"Before I knew it I was pruning the neighbourhood," he said of his illicit gardening.

He pruned city trees, tidied up after himself, and took the flowers home to brighten up each room. He took cherry and plum blossoms, as well as magnolia blossoms. 

"A lot of them ended up in my bedroom and so it was pretty extravagant. For a while there I went into a real frenzy."

But eventually, he felt guilty and stopped taking flowers. 

"I realized how intensively and how beautifully [the city gardeners] were organizing our environment around us through the tree plantings and so on."

'I just love beauty. And it's more than the flowers. I love to be surrounded by beautiful objects,' said Brian Brett.

'I can be trouble'

Brett grew up on farms in the Fraser Valley, where his father was a peddler who sold produce.

"We peddled potatoes and apples and fruit and vegetables ... We would hit all the farms. And so I really got into that kind of lifestyle with the land ... Maybe I have the body of a 70-year-old, but I have the mind of a 19-year-old. I can be trouble."

A magnolia branch decorates Brian Brett's home den. (Brian Brett)

Brett's cancer prognosis has improved in the last few months and his doctors now say he has two to three years left to live. 

"I'm pretty creaky and I'm on 19 pills a day, but I have a remarkable ability to survive."

In the meantime, he'll continue to fill his home with things that bring him joy.

"I just love beauty. And it's more than the flowers. I love to be surrounded by beautiful objects."

Listen to the full interview here:

Brian Brett is surrounding himeself with flower. He tells guest host Laura Lynch why. 9:10

With files from The Early Edition

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly said Brett's father stole produce. In fact, he sold produce.
    Jun 24, 2019 7:02 AM PT