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Gathering splinters and fragments with the Bard of the Bench

In this Following Up feature we return to The Bench for a few words from poverty activist and newly published street poet Ed Pickersgill

“Some things don’t fit into what some call, pages-of-life poetry,” wrote poverty activist Ed Pickersgill on Aug. 21 after logging another afternoon at The Bench. “Some feelings, some memories, some tears, some fears, some laughter, some pains, some injuries, some deaths, some splinters, some fragments.”

Few in Guelph can express the same genuine observations and insights about the daily reality of poverty in our community and many look forward to reading the updates Pickersgill posts on Facebook each day.

“I sit down and if I am feeling weary, I will sit there for about 20 minutes before I start to write my update,” he said. “By five o’clock if I don’t have it there, I get at least six messages asking if I am okay.”

The posts are an account of what happened that day at The Bench, an otherwise unremarkable city bench on Wyndham Street North, where seven days a week from 1:45 to 3 p.m. Pickersgill distributes food, water, sanitary products, clothing and emotional support to vulnerable people in the community.

“It gives you a feel of it,” said Pickersgill. “It makes it transparent and visible. We are all here, actual human beings and we are doing our version of being and belonging together. That is all a very powerful statement.”

That statement comes in a variety of forms and sometimes Pickersgill closes the daily update with a poem under the title Splinters and Fragments.

“A number of people were posting comments and saying I should get the poems published,” he said. “I was saying, ‘I am publishing it right here.’ That’s the way my brain works, but they were saying they want to be able to hold a book in their hands.”

One of those people was Lisa Browning, owner of the One Thousand Trees publishing company.

“I was reading Ed’s poetry on Facebook over the last few months,” said Browning. “His poems speak to me, almost every one of them. It is raw and it is honest, and I asked if he would be interested in putting it together in a book to support his work here.”

Pickersgill worked in publishing for decades but this was a new experience for him.

“This will be the first time my poetry has been published by somebody other than me, which is really great,” said Pickersgill. “My slogan is, ‘Writers must write. Readers can read if they want,’.”

Browning believes people will want to read Pickersgill’s poetry and she has launched a GoFundMe campaign to get the presses rolling.

“I do a lot of fundraising and 100 per cent of the proceeds from this book will be chipped back to Ed,” said Browning. “All we have to do is cover printing costs. I am donating my time to put it together.”

Pickersgill will invest the money back into The Bench operation.

She is reaching out to local businesses and organizations to help with the cause.

“You can get a copy here at The Bench and through my website,” said Browning. “Smitten Apparel is going to stock them, and I am going to talk to a few bookstores here as well.”

The idea of becoming the Bard of the Bench has left Pickersgill uncharacteristically speechless, but he welcomes the opportunity to help more people and to celebrate the efforts of everyone who contributes to The Bench each day.

“It’s a very simple idea,” said Pickersgill. “All it takes is people having the commitment to do it. I have a whole range of people that feed supplies to me. There is a Bench network of support.

"We have an informal situation here and it’s great. I am kind of lost for words, so to speak.”