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On Poem’s Centennial Eve, Mahwah Starts Joyce Kilmer Commemoration

After years of arguing that Kilmer's most famous poem, "Trees," was written in Mahwah, one man's crusade to have the hometown poet honored is beginning to pay off

The day before the 100th birthday of Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem “Trees,” Mahwah is kicking off what officials say may become a year-long celebration of the poet, his life and his work.

But, according to one township resident, the road to getting the township to honor one of its own has been a long one.

Alex Michelini, a longtime resident and former member of the Mahwah Historical Commission, said he completed an investigation into the history of Kilmer’s famed poem in the summer of 2011.

According to Michelini, no one disputes that Kilmer lived in Mahwah between 1912 and 1917. And, it’s widely accepted that he wrote “Trees” on Feb. 2, 1913. However, there is some dispute over where it was written. Places like Rutgers University and the University of Notre Dame, a town Kilmer vacationed at in New Hampshire and several other places across the US have claimed to be the birthplace of – and inspiration behind – “Trees.”

However, Michelini . His most outstanding evidence is a book written by Kilmer’s son saying that his father penned the poem from inside their Mahwah home 100 years ago.

“To me, it is obvious that this man loved Mahwah, and that he wrote the poem here,” Michelini, a former NY Daily News reporter and editor and longtime Kilmer fan, said.

Earlier this week, Michelini blogged on Patch and said he reached out to NorthJersey.com to alert local residents that he was disappointed with the township’s lack of response to 100th anniversary celebration suggestions he’s been making for over two years.

“Mahwah is a growing town,” he told Patch. “There are a lot of people here who may not even know that “Trees” was written here, and that’s a shame. It’s part of our heritage and we should celebrate that.”

By Thursday afternoon, the township had responded to Michelini’s calls for Kilmer appreciation.

Friday afternoon, Mayor Bill Laforet is set to issue a proclamation recognizing the 100th anniversary of the poem and naming February 2 as “Joyce Kilmer Day” in Mahwah this year, and every year moving forward.

“We have a very unique history in Mahwah, and I think it’s so important to preserve that,” Laforet told Patch. “And this is an extremely significant mark in time. It’d be wrong of us not to recognize the 100th anniversary.”

Laforet will present the proclamation at a small ceremony at the Mahwah Public Library at 2:15 p.m. Friday, along with members of the Historic Preservation Commission.

According to Library Director Kurt Hadeler, “this display is intended to be the kickoff of what may prove to be a year-long celebration of Joyce Kilmer's life and poetry.”

The library will have copies of Kilmer's works and biographies available to borrow, and a small display about the poem set up for the event, he said.

And other Joyce Kilmer events are now in the works, too.

According to Laforet, part of the Roxanne’s Restaurant parking lot expansion includes the installation of a bench dedicated to Kilmer along Franklin Turnpike.

“I know [Roxanne’s owner Pete Mastorakos] wants to give back to the township and commemorate our history,” Laforet said.

And, according to Mahwah High School teacher and Historic Preservation member Yvonne Beatrice, the Commission plans to sponsor a Kilmer-inspired poetry-writing contest in Mahwah schools.

Michelini said he was happy to learn of the events, and the possibility for more Kilmer commemoration in Mahwah in the future.

“I hope this is the beginning of a lot more,” he told Patch earlier this week. “I don’t understand why a community wouldn’t be so proud to tout the accomplishments of one of it’s most famous and important residents.”

Submit your questions or news tips to jessica.mazzola@patch.com. And, remember to sign up for Patch's daily newsletter, and get updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Leaking Ink February 01, 2013 at 02:06 PM
Thank you, Pete, for yet another generous gift to our Mahwah community. We appreciate all that you do for us, and we want you to know it. For those of you who don't yet know the poem, here it is: TREES by: Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) I THINK that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree. A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the earth's sweet flowing breast; A tree that looks a God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray; A tree that may in Summer wear A nest of robins in her hair; Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain. Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.
Mahwah Resident February 01, 2013 at 04:21 PM
Alex, thank you for doing this and not giving up. Mahwah does have a unique history. Mahwah residents enjoy learning about the towns roots and hopefully the newcomers will also.

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