Windsor poet laureate Marty Gervais has assembled a crew of authors — Vanessa Shields, Mary Ann Mulhern, Dorothy Mahoney, Daniel Lockhart, Peter Hrastovec and Carlina D’Alimonte — to document Windsor’s most storied places through poetry. The project, commissioned by the city’s department of cultural affairs, is part of the Windsor’s celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday next year.
There’s no lack of fodder for the poems, Gervais enthused, standing outside Willistead Manor this week.
“There are so many fascinating stories.”
He told of how Abraham Lincoln, before he became the 16th president of the United States, was an accidental tourist in Sandwich. Lincoln’s ship went aground in the Detroit River and Lincoln and all the other passengers had to disembark. The incident spurred Lincoln to invent a device to buoy vessels and patent it in 1849.
On the tract of land where Devonshire Mall stands today was once the site of one of the most famous thoroughbred races of all time. In 1920, the Kenilworth track hosted a race between Man O’ War and triple crown winner Sir Barton. Man O’ War won handily. While there’s barely a mention of it in Windsor, there’s a monument to the race in Louisville, Ky., where the the Kentucky Derby is held each year, Gervais said.
“You go shopping at Sears and you don’t realize that it once was a racetrack.”
Gervais said he came up with the idea of preserving Windsor’s history in poetry when he learned of the demolition of Abars, an old rumrunner-era tavern on Riverside Drive. “It got me thinking that we need to preserve at least the memory of our history.”
The poems will be collected into a book Gervais will publish next year.
Gervais envisions poems gracing city buses and poetry readings at the public libraries and civic events. There will also be “random acts of poetry,” where poets will stop people in the street, read them a verse, then hand out a copy of it.
Gervais will give more insights into the project Thursday at the Poetry at the Manor, a poetry reading held annually at Willistead Manor.