'100 Reasons to Plant a Tree' by Tim Ellis is Write Out Loud Poem of the Week
The new Write Out Loud Poem of the Week is ‘100 Reasons to Plant a Tree’ by Tim Ellis. In his Q&A he explains that this poem is a part of a collection about climate change. He also talks about how the environment is his key concern as a poet – “we need to learn to look after the world or there will be no world worth living in” - and how performing his poems has included reading them at demos and rallies. It is the second time that Tim has won Poem of the Week.
The last time you won Write Out Loud’s Poem of the Week it was with a protest poem about fracking. In this one you advise us all strongly to plant a tree. Is the environment one of your key concerns as a poet?
Certainly. Most of my poems are impelled by environmental awareness. It's not only my key concern as a poet, but what motivates my entire life. We need to learn to look after the world or there will be no world worth living in. ‘100 Reasons to Plant a Tree’ features in a book I self-published about climate change called Speak The Unspeakable: cool words for an overheating world. Probably not many people will read it but we all need to do whatever we can to encourage one another to make an effort for the common good, and this is one of the things I do.
Have you ever been involved in environmental protests as a poet, to the extent that you have read poems at a demonstration?
I read poems at a number of demos and rallies in 2017, both as an invited speaker and sometimes just as a spontaneous voice in the crowd. I've read outside the gates of the fracking sites at both Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire - my home county - and at Preston New Road in Lancashire. I performed anti-fracking poems two days in succession outside the Conservative party conference in Manchester, and I was declaiming loudly outside North Yorkshire County Hall the day the planning commitee gave the go-ahead for fracking in Yorkshire. Certain elected representatives and business leaders might be getting sick of the sound of me by now. At least I hope so!
Your CV on your Write Out Loud profile includes “God the Banana – an epic verse-novel in 427 sonnets”. How long did that take to write?
It depends on what you mean by "write". My estimate is that it took about three years to get the first draft down, but I was revising it for a couple of years after that, and I'd sketched out the plot then tried and failed twice to write it as a conventional novel, several years before I thought of doing it as a sonnet sequence. I find a narrative easier to keep under control if I write in sonnet-sized chunks.
Another of your published works, Birds of the World in Colour, was a collection of 40 sonnets. A favourite verse form for you?
There is something very satisfying about 14 lines. It takes almost exactly one minute to read out loud, which is about the length of most people's attention span nowadays. I also take a perverse pleasure in the fact that 14 lines in rhyme and metre never seems quite enough room to make a coherent statement. The poem is screaming to be allowed to be 16 lines in four quatrains but you have to force it into a smaller space. This challenges your creativity and the result can be far more interesting than had you let the poem go where it wanted.
One last question, and it’s a horticultural one – is January is a good time to be planting a tree?
If it's a bare-rooted tree it is an excellent time since the tree is now dormant, as long as the ground is not frozen solid. But if the tree is in a container wait till the soil starts to warm up in May, and the roots will find their way out of the root ball quicker. Don't forget to keep it watered over the summer!
100 REASONS TO PLANT A TREE
by Tim Ellis
Add them up and there must be
one hundred reasons to plant a tree:
The buds of May inlaid with dew. 1
The verdure of the summer leaves. 2
Winter twigs -a filigree 3
against the sky’s gunmetal hue.
Refreshing shade when days are hot, 4
and autumn colours -red and gold. 5
Rot down leaves to make leafmould 6
and mulch it round your veggie plot.
They’re shelter from the rain and hail. 7
They rustle in a gentle breeze 8
but make a windbreak in a gale. 9
There’s a hundred reasons for planting trees.
Planting trees can make you healthy. 10
Plant a tree and put down roots. 11
Planting trees can make you wealthy 12
if you sell the fruits.
For volunteers it’s pure enjoyment. 13
Lonely people meet new friends. 14
For forestry workers it’s employment. 15
Young offenders can make amends. 16
For students it’s an education. 17
For tree-dophiles it’s masturbation. 18
Give a park some art and culture
with a living willow sculpture. 19
or maybe a pleached hornbeam hedge 20
will smarten up your driveway’s edge,
or plant a weeping willow tree
to make your garden look Chinese. 21
They instigate precipitation 22
by a process called transpiration.
They’re home to many types of primate:
gibbons, gorillas, chimpanzees. 23,24,25
They’re a carbon sink, which helps the climate. 26
There’s a hundred reasons for planting trees.
Tree roots prevent erosion. 27
Mycorrhizal fungi fix nitrates in the soil. 28
Trees provide natural antiseptic lotions 29
such as neem and tea tree oil.
Ashamed of belonging to the jet-set?
Plant some trees as a carbon offset! 30
Big polluting industries
green-up their image by planting trees. 31
The shady leaves of the London Plane
keep the city air much cleaner. 32
Oak-aged sherry comes from Spain. 33
In Greece the pine trees make retsina. 34
Birch sap wine and maple syrup 35,36
are local specialities,
like Bavarian Ham from Central Europe, 37
cured in the smoke of wood, from trees.
Mulberry trees are the source of silk. 38
Trees give shade to coffee plantations. 39
There’s palm oil, raffia and coconut milk. 40,41,42
Burn the wood in a power station 43
to generate sustainable energee…
There’s a hundred reasons to plant a tree.
Think of Christmas with no Christmas tree 44
nor sound of log fires crackling! 45
There’d be no work for royalty 46
were they never asked to plant a sapling.
Wood for window frames and doors, 47,48
rafters, pillars, walls and floors. 49,50,51,52
Most of the produce exported from the tropics
is grown on trees… but hey!... don’t knock it
…imagine a world that had no chocolate! 53
Genuine corks that aren’t made of plastic, 54
rubber, charcoal, aspirin, mastic, 55,56,57,58
the tannin used in tanneries 59
…all these products come from trees.
Even the sheets where I scribbled this poem 60
were once just bundles of xylem and phloem.
Build a sturdy wooden bridge. 61
Line an avenue with Wellingtonias. 62
Plant a fifty-foot-high beech hedge. 63
The General Sherman in California 64
is the largest living thing on earth.
Plant a tree to celebrate a birth. 65
A memorial tree for the dear departed 66
and a willow casket for the body 67
can be a balm for the broken hearted.
You’ve read the books of Oliver Rackham, 68
twitched the treetops with Bill Oddie, 69
bewitched by Springwatch while Chris Packham
talks tree-talk with Michaela Strachan. 70
Coppice a tree and it sprouts again. 71
Polish the wood to see the grain. 72
Since flies were fossilized in amber
tree rings have tracked the passage of time. 73
They’re a makeshift clothesline for light-weight campers 74
and something little boys can climb. 75
Children love a game of conkers. 76
Lovers kiss beneath an arbour. 77
Nutty squirrels go totally bonkers 78
stocking up their winter larders.
Trees are features in the landscape. 79
Trees are landmarks,
and those moments 80
when you’re lost, a tree is handy
to climb and see which way is homewards. 81
Tree huggers need something to hug. 82
Birds need trees to make their nests in. 83
Trees are great for wood-boring bugs. 84
Owls need hollow trunks to rest in. 85
His father’s tree upon the ground did
make George Washington an honest bloke, 86
and Charles the First escaped the Roundheads
hiding in the Royal Oak. 87
Newton’s ideas gained gravity 88
through sitting under an apple tree.
Birnam Wood dismayed Macbeth. 89
Tarzan travelled by liana. 90
Lord Buddha mused on life and death
beneath a tree and reached Nirvana. 91
Winnie the Pooh lived in a wood 92
with his little friends.
The Major Oak sheltered Robin Hood 93
and all his Merry Men.
Envisage the embarrassment of Adam and Eve
if they’d had no fig tree leaves! 94
A nectar source for honey bees. 95
Carve a religious effigy. 96
Define a property boundary. 97
Give yourself some privacy. 98
Maintain the timber industry. 99
…and of course, the one hundredth reason to plant a tree:
it inspires my fantastic poet-tree! 100