By Nicole Cohen
Ariel Brink is a hypocrite. He is a rabid anti smoker and refuses to be where there is smoke. He said he tried smoking once, but didn’t inhale. He finds smokers unattractive and calls the habit disgusting. Yet he always carries a cigarette pack. Inside the pack, however, is poetry.
Each yellow and purple box comes complete with 20 rolled poems and an insert card that reads “smoking is idiotic … with a bit of deep breathing, poetry ‘smoking’ can be every bit as comforting.” Brink calls his creation “Poet Lights.”
Brink, 26, created Poet Lights primarily to trick people into consuming poetry. “It’s unheard of to get complete strangers to read my poems,” he says. “If they look like smokes, it’s novel enough that they forget they’re reading poetry.”
Brink graduated from Ryerson’s film program in 1995. During his first year at Ryerson he realized the film industry was not for him. “I didn’t want to be a filmmaker in a cigarette-smoking, donut-eating culture,” he says. After graduating, he went to teacher’s college at Nipissing University in North Bay to study junior and intermediate English.
Brink has been writing poetry and music for six years. He used to earn $10 an hour writing poetry by donation at a park in north Toronto. He asked people to spare a word and he would compose poems for them, “which was more fun than begging on the street,” he says.
It was during final exams in February 1996, at Nippissing that Brink first got the idea for Poet Lights. He was discussing the value of money with friends and decided to see how far $5 would take him. He bought some pens and three rolls of cash register receipt paper, the cheapest paper he could find. “I found it was vulgar to fold the paper, and it had a nice curve,” he says. “So I rolled it up and got a great idea.”
In September 1996, he created his first prototype by taking apart a du Maurier Cigarette box to see how it was constructed. He filled the box with 20 poems and named his creation due Poetier. Because he was worried about legal hassles if he mass-produced his product under du Maurier’s name, he renamed them Poet Lights.
The boxes are printed in a factory and Brink glues them together himself. His roommate, graphic designer, designed the box.
When he’s not writing poetry, Brink works as a substitute teacher for Grade 7 and 8 students. He hires his students to roll the poems for $10 an hour.
First sold at local craft shows, Poet Lights are now sold for $10 a box at Pages bookstore on Queen Street, This Ain’t The Rosedale Library on Church Street, a few bookstores in Nelson, B.C. and soon at the Ryerson bookstore.
“People buy Poet Lights for different reasons,” says Dan Bazuin, co-owner of This Ain’t The Rosedale Library. He says his store has sold more than 100 boxes. Many buyers are people who have quit smoking and want to scare their friends.
There is an open box of Poet Lights on the counter and every customer in the store opens and reads the poems. “They all say, ‘Wow, what a clever idea,’” Baziun says. Pages Bookstore has sold almost 200 boxes of Poet Lights since Christmas.
Brink hopes to market Poet Lights in major bookstores and catalogues. While he enjoys being independent, he says he wants to reach more readers and eventually earn a living from his poetry.
Brink would eventually like to create different versions of Poet Lights such as Christmas Lights, Lovers Lights, and Cigars for longer poems.
Many of Brink’s poems are about slowing down and paying attention to things in everyday life. “The intent of my poetry is to wake people up to things that are around them,” he says.
With a medium such as poetry to express himself, he is confident he can get his creative messages out to the public, even if he has to carry around yellow and purple boxes of fake cigarettes to do it.