The “Dear Houston” project will once again transform the foliage throughout Eleanor Tinsley Park into “poet-trees” for National Poetry Month. Local artist Nicola Parente has embellished the trees with ribbons and other materials to simulate water, and visitors are encouraged to write stories or hope or words of encouragement to adorn the trees. The result is a give-and-take installation that provides a unique look at Houston’s soul.
“Creative writing offers a safe harbor for children to examine and articulate their feelings,” says Robin Reagler, executive director of Writers in the Schools, the project’s organizer. “With ‘Dear Houston,’ we want to create a way for the entire community to come together, share stories, and heal from Hurricane Harvey.”
This project was initially developed with a grant from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance. Poet-trees have appeared in locations such as Buffalo Bayou, Discovery Green, the WITS office in the Menil neighborhood, the East End, and the Houston Public Library.
Parente has worked with WITS on the poet-trees project for the last few years; in 2017, he estimates 5,000 people wrote original poems for the public art project.
“There were even two marriage proposals,” he says. “It’s just wonderful to see how people engaged with the art. It’s a magical way to bring people of the city together. And this year, I think the project is such a gift to the people of this city.”
Parente says that as an artist, he wants to consider all the ways people interact with the urban environment. With Houston as his backdrop, he thinks his work helps not only promote the natural world but helps show people why nature is important.
“I used ribbon to create the idea of movement and water,” he says, “but it’s also a representation of why water is central to human life, and how the bayou is the lifeblood of Houston.”
Visitors are encouraged to take pictures of their poems throughout April and share them on social media using the hashtag #poettree and tag @witshouston. Photos will be shared on the WITS Facebook page and Instagram.