Leaves of verse


Indigenous to the Paroles region of Upper Volta, the fabled Story Bush derives its name from the text-like mottling that occurs on its leaves beginning in late May. During the growing season individual lines emerge on a plant. In autumn local story gatherers collect the fallen leaves and arrange them into a tale that will entertain villagers through the long dark days of winter.

The placard stuck into the pot holding Hugh Musick’s (AB’84) artwork Story Bush (magnolia fabula), at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, adopts the authoritative, encyclopedic tone of other conservatory text, but like Story Bush itself, the paragraph combines imagination with reality.

A magnolia displaying an original 255-line narrative poem inscribed on the leaves, Musick’s Story Bush can’t be read in linear fashion, he points out. And that’s part of its magic. This past weekend children and adults alike touched the branches and leaves, circling the plant while reading such lines as:

unexpected heiress to a great aunt’s fortune
low-hanging cloud of discontent
thus the unprobable became possible

In a phone interview, Musick offers the analogy of a Magic 8 ball to explain how he hopes the phrases will affect viewers. “That’s the way music lyrics stay in my head. A turn of phrase can have certain substance and it can roll around in my head. If people are able to take away a bit or piece, maybe that seed will become inspiration to them.”

Musick has created hundreds of collages accompanied by short imaginative stories, but, he says, this is “the first time I’ve worked with a plant.” A few years ago he was walking in Lakeview when some hyacinth bushes, their leaves turning a brilliant red, caught his eye. “The image of someone writing a whole novel onto their bush came to me,” he recalls. Musick hopes Story Bush “will just stop you in your tracks and make you think, and reevaluate the potential of what things can be.”

In the fall Musick will play the role of story gatherer himself. Every day he will make a trip to the conservatory to collect the fallen leaves. He plans to transcribe the phrases in the order they have fallen. The resulting poem will be “decided entirely by the change of seasons.”

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photos: A boy checks out the poetry leaves (top). Musick's phrases can't be read in linear fashion (bottom).

August 16, 2006