Everyone's a poet, even if they didn't know it, in Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, today

A day to wax poetic, started by the mayor of New York City in 2002, has reached Nova Scotia. From the Big Apple to tiny Sherbrooke, residents will be regaled by citizen poets today.

Poem in Your Pocket Day to be marked by the entire community

Deborah Banks reads a poem at the local hardware store in Sherbrooke. Banks is getting the entire community in on Poem In Your Pocket Day. (Stephanie Clattenburg/CBC)

Two young men wearing black jackets and ball caps stand behind the cash register at the only hardware store in Sherbrooke, N.S., as Deborah Banks walks in with a spring in her step.

A card is tucked into her back pocket. The retired school teacher is at the store to remind the workers to get ready to wax — not with tools, just poetically.

She pulls out a poem from her pocket. It's one she's written, and it's a quick one, as requested by a store employee.

It reads, part:

As children we rooted our hands on the forest floor and clawed at the earth so that sweet pungent smell would stay with us
We'd lay on the stone wall like it was some pyre waiting for a match to spark the night

Finished a few lines later, Banks gets some applause.

The poem tucked into Deborah Banks's back pocket. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

"Some people might think it's a little bit wacky but I've been getting terrific feedback," Banks said last Thursday about her mission to get everyone she meets reciting poetry on Poem in Your Pocket Day, which is today — the last Thursday in April.

The mayor's office in New York City started the event in 2002, and it spread north with help from the League of Canadian Poets. This annual day of rhyme and verses falls on the last Thursday in April, which is national poetry month.

A first in Nova Scotia

On the league's website, it encourages people to celebrate the day by sharing poetry in schools, workplaces and on the street.

It's poetry for the people.

As far as the group knows, Poem in Your Pocket Day has never been organized in such a big way in Nova Scotia.

And it's happening in the smallest of places. Sherbrooke, population 300, is a winding, 200-kilometre drive from Halifax on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore. 

The workers at the hardware store, Highland Building Supplies, are digging the idea.

"I can feel the creative juices flowing already," said Wyatt Jordan about writing his own poetry in honour of the occasion.

Co-worker Adam Young looked up the works of the late Indigenous chief and actor Dan George, whose A Lament for Confederation is considered iconic.

'To introduce some loveliness'

It's all music to Banks's ears. After moving from Montreal to Sherbrooke, N.S., to retire, she's been staying busy lately spreading the word on the street about this day to celebrate poetry.

"It's just to introduce some loveliness to the world," she said as she went from business to business reminding them about her literary endeavour. She calls it a "slowing down moment" between people.

It's not likely to get much slower today in Sherbrooke.

Last Thursday, a calico cat crossed Main Street without fear of getting run over. The feline followed Banks as she ambled over to Beanie's Bistro, a quaint café, to announce the day of poetry. 

An ode to the tomato

Café co-owner Max MacDonald was ready. He offered Banks an ode to the tomato, but his was no garden-variety poem.

He wrote it himself.

Max MacDonald delivers his ode to the tomato at his café, Beanie's Bistro. (Stephanie Clattenburg/CBC)

Tomatoes are the apple of my eye. My cup of tea in a Big Mac world. They're red-fleshed, seeded lusciousness. Reminds of the way that a Jimmy Swaggart convert must feel because surely God is a tomato.

Laughter and applause broke out at Beanie's. Banks's mission was accomplished here.

As she left the café, a library volunteer, Barbara Furlong, showed Banks a visual piece she'd created to mark the day, a pair of cut-off jeans with poems stuffed into the pockets.

A poem for the bank

One was written by Furlong about the local bank.

Barbara Furlong created this piece to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day coming to Sherbrooke. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

The people there all wore a smile so she stayed, enjoyed the place, and chatted for awhile.

"That just sums up Sherbrooke, doesn't it? That's perfect," Banks says to Furlong.

Banks isn't just targeting the main drag. She's also enlisted the help of students, from some of the youngest to the oldest, at the community's school, St. Mary's Academy.

Students pitch in

The Grade 3 kids in Courtney Cameron's class used colours as their inspiration, but they took Roses are Red up a notch or two.

Grade 3 students at St. Mary's Academy use colour as their poetry inspiration. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Jacob McDonald, 9, was the first volunteer to read his poem aloud. 

Black smells like fresh blackberries. Black feels like the grip of my bike. Black sounds like my dad's big speaker. Black.

Over in the Grade 12 English class, teacher Rob Wolf threw down the literary gauntlet. He challenged his students to write poems in sonnet style — 14 lines and iambic pentameter. Wolf said it's a way to prepare for Shakespeare.

Dennis Flemming, left, wrote about his love of trucks. Parker MacIsaac's poem is called Aching Drought. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Student Dennis Flemming has composed his own version of a Shakespearian tragedy. His "special poem, for sure" is about his love of trucks. It was inspired after he totalled one.

The white paint glistens as the sunlight lay, as the engine starts it would seem that it roared
I would again experiment to try my luck for thee to receive another great truck

Meanwhile, Emilie Dugas poured out her angst about growing up — it's "really scary" — onto a page. 

Emilie Dugas said it didn't take long to write a poem about how it's scary growing up. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

I see the world but it doesn't see me. Future undecided. How can I decide who I want to be?

On this day reserved for rhyme, everyone in Sherbrooke is a poet.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu

Reporter

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia and host of Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7, 7:30 in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.