The Deeds Tree and other poems.

One of Robbie’s goals in lockdown was to write a compendium of poems and his book ‘The Deeds Tree and other poems’ has now been (self) published. All donations will go towards planting 25 trees (native to the country) in places which were important to him. We hope that we can arrange this in Sri Lanka, Africa, India and Nepal as well as Wales and various places in England. This will be done a year either side of his 25th birthday in November 2022, and I know he would be delighted given his interest in environmental issues and climate change. If you would like a copy, please message me (Lesley@rworld.org.uk). The suggested donation is £12 to cover printing and postage : https://www.rworld.org.uk/donate-to-the-25th-birthday-tree-fund/

Extract from the Foreword of the Deeds Tree and Other poems

The Deeds Tree and Other poems is, like all great books, an intensely lived experience, charting the profound mediations of a young poet whose life-journey takes him to real and symbolic places, an experience that conjures up feelings of love and loss, euphoria and melancholia, dreams and disappointments. And yet one could say that all the poems in the collection transmit a message of hope and continuity, as if the poet was searching for some inner truth, his truth, which forms the expanding and multilayered fabric of this book.

The poem (the Deeds Tree) sets up an opposition between a mythical world (Sri Lanka’s ancient time) and the fast pace of modernity, contrasting the eternal tree of life with the more frantic whirlwind of modern life. Memory brings forth the mythical and offers the poet a space where to project his dreams and feel in harmony with nature. Mythical time is, thus, interrupted by the present-tense of the poet, aptly captured in the expression ‘the minute hand of the clock’ and laden verbs such as ‘consumed’ and ‘loading’, expressive of the pressures he feels. But, as in Keats, Yeats, and Wordsworth (discussed in the book, but not in this extract) the mythical returns through nature, in this case, it is represented by the symbolism of a second tree, a younger tree growing in a nearby green field in Canterbury. Cyclical time is evoked again through the idea of growth, rebirth, and transformation as the young tree of the ‘summer of 2020′ merges with the ancient tree of Sri Lanka. Just as Keats’ nightingale in a garden in Hampstead in the ‘summer of 1919’ sings the same melodious song which the biblical Ruth heard in ancient times. In both poems, moreover, the transcendental is invoked by the cycles of nature and the classical notion of ars longa (eternal art), in other words, the immortality of poetic expression. And yet one might say that the poets, too, enter mythical time by becoming tree, nightingale, and immortal song.

Henceforth, the ‘Deeds Tree’ becomes, mutatis mutandis, the Tree of Life and the Poet’s Life, a gift to nature and a gift to others, as part of an everlasting cycle of earthly renewal. This is captured in the poem’s closing stanza.

The final word ‘solidarity’ sums up the poem’s overall message, a felicitious and capacious word conveying hope, generosity, and togetherness, a message which lies at the very heart of Robbie’s poetic vision. It is for us, readers, to read, to enjoy, to discover.

The Deeds Tree

By Robbie Curtis

Sometimes my dreams take me to the sunset February I visited Sri Lanka’s

Ancient city; where rests what is thought to be the oldest living

human-planted tree on Earth: The Sri Maha Bodhi. Raised from a branch

cut from the holy tree under which the Buddha achieved

Enlightenment in 288 BC; it has been lovingly preserved for all these years

by a devoted team of monks; its heavy sagging branches propped by lavish gold

supports and its thirsty trunk nourished by the vitality of rhythmic chants as

mantras are recalled in perfect harmony. I capture the scene on

my disposable camera and clutch it tightly as



into the stuffy, underground study of an empty room, and here battle

helplessly against the minute hand of the clock on the wall, consumed by the

loading and reloading of a hundred and one ideas pinned

to the virtual notice board of thoughts that are not my own,

In life’s exam the phone upon my desk is an engine revved with

fresh insights, but new questions are derived faster than the

answers that arrive. Working through the night, with windows up and curtains

drawn, I fill my days with wistful writing before the season

changes, ignorant to the light of a new dawn protruding through

the village lawn where sprouts the slender body of a young

sycamore. The earth is tender but one is oft cut off from its

allotments in a world that wants more; so what if I were to adopt

this tree and tie it intrinsically to the health of my deeds?

Maybe, as my tree matures, I will feel inclined to support it

with all the wealth that I procure: and perchance when I’m no more,

might my love endure in the chants of those who meet to

pray beneath my tree, sowing the enchanting seeds of a cyclic show

                                                                                                   in solidarity.

Thanks for Robbie’s book of poetry. We are honored that you share his deepest thoughts, feelings and artistry with us.  The Deeds Tree is so heavy and worldly for his young body that clearly had an old and ancient essence to it.  His love is in the chants arising below the Sri Maha Bodhi.  He put it there with this poem.  I hope you will get to hear that for yourself some day if you have not already.  What a beautiful thought that came from him and is preserved here in his art.  I am imagining the sound of those chants and smiling that that is where he put his love for all to hear and for you to know.  Smile if you can hear it too and know that so long as there is chanting at the Deeds Tree, Robbie’s love is profoundly in this world.  It is sublime, that thought from your young man.  How proud you can be that he knew how to express such a closeness to that place with art.  The eloquence of his sentiment can let you know the power of his love and the goodness of his deeds has a place he wanted it to be known forever.  So knowing for being young and so old for understanding.  I’m moved.  You are blessed that that love, springing out from you and Simon rings out in the place he found for it and he chose to put it to sound every day from now until the chants end.  Let’s hope they never do.

I have now read all of Robbie’s poems in the so fitting tribute book you gifted us.  ‘This Feeling’ is my absolute favourite.  It might be the most elegant description of hope I could ever imagine.  And hope IN THE MOMENT .  “It feels so nice”.  Indeed, indeed it resonates deeply for me.  Some people are tuned in too intensely to the world of human feelings and clearly Robbie was one of those special souls the rest of us too simply just call artists.  My goodness, he shined so brightly for you and himself and others in his life that his fuel was consumed too quickly.  You have captured the beauty of your boy’s essence with this book.  The love in the chants at the Deeds Tree is for you and all of us.  Smile. Laugh. Have profound pride.  You got to be close to this shining light for 23 years. Most people are surrounded by only dull, greyness, dimness, and darkness most of their lives.  How lucky were you to be his mum??? Realise it (of course you do with no help from me). Celebrate it! It is ok to do so. Wouldn’t it please him? It feels so nice.

Bryan Brinkley, Phoenix, USA


In the Autumn term of 2022, we are honored that the Simon Langton School held a poetry competition in honour of Robbie which has been judged by Patricia Novillo Corvalan, Reader in Comparative Literature at the University of Kent. The winners will be announced shortly on this website.

The Deeds Tree

By Will Gulliford, Year 12

Silent sentinel, he stands all alone.

Watching from his patch of forsaken hill,

Fatal bite, origin of all that’s known,

Test of deeds, daring show of free will.

Now, see under him, the old rites of man,

Prophecy and prayer and sacrifice,

The shining spark from which all else began,

Dodona, Yggdrasil and Paradise.

The worm, he burrows like merciless time,

All bark decays, blackened and ever cold,

Nothing remains of a friend’s fouls crime,

But what’s old is new, and what’s new is old.

Flames glut, frost gnaws, man and beast have their fill

Of the fruits of mother Gaia’s great womb,

Legions are raised and razed, but all is still,

For Earth is nursery and Earth is tomb.

And yet in the end, he stands, he remains,

Fit place for tales of pleasure, tales of pain.

Patricia Novillo-Corvalan’s comments on Will’s (year 12) winning poem.

A poetic tour de force, a stunning and accomplished poem, skillfully and beautifully crafted. It captures life’s rhythms through the cycles of nature: the motif of the tree standing for eternity, infinity, and the everlasting. The poem suggests that one tree may become all trees, the particular in the universal, from the Biblical story of Adam and Eve’s fall to the world’s mythologies (Greek, Nordic, Christian) to Robbie’s Deeds Tree, where the centre of the universe lies. By evocatively conjuring up the ebbs and flows of life, the poem captures the renewing power of the wild. Like Robbie’s poetic vision, it invites us to commune with nature, listen to its wondrous tales, and cherish the eternal.

Word not Deeds, by Dylan, year 8

A tree standing tall, upright

Its branches wrapped around the leaves

It was said that it had never been watered

Though every night, someone goes to the tree and grieves.

Many men talk about how they have kept the tree alive,

They blabber on and on about it, every day

All these men aren’t the one who help the tree survive

They are not sure how it is alive

An old man Finn, was his name

He sits and listens to all the stories,

The men bully Finn, they call him old

Finn doesn’t talk much, all he says is hello.

A boy walks to Finn

He knows that Finn helps the tree,

They sit together in silence,

The boy says I’ll help you.

A tree; standing tall, upright

Its branches wrapped around the leaves

It was said that it had never been watered

Though ever night, someone goes to the tree and grieves.

Patricia Novillo-Corvalan’s comments on Dylan’s (year 8) winning poem.

A fabulous poem with a fairy-tale motif; it imagines the story of an outcast who triumphs in the face of adversity. Nature provides a refuge, a respite from life’s troubles, the welcoming forest offers a longed for symbiosis with the wild. The poem ends with a clever twist. As in the best fairy tales, the lonely outcast reveals himself to be both the dreamer and the tree’s saviour.  So, tree and outcast are one and the same, united in grief and hope, nurturing each other when nobody’s around, the outsider watering the tree of eternity with his patient weeping.

Elliot’s (year 8) poem (runner up)

‘The Deeds Tree’

Am I a man of deeds not words?

I do not shout from the side but fly with birds,

I do not want to sit idly by,

A deed left undone, will wither and die.

Whilst words may help a man in need,

An act of kindness is well received,

Words are from lips and easy to part,

A deed comes truly from the heart,

Deeds not words will speak to me.

Patricia Novillo-Corvalan’s comments on Elliott’s (year 8) winning poem.

A brief, yet brilliant, poem with a profound message, which captures the life-affirming power of Robbie’s poetic vision. If poetry is the key to unlock Robbie’s spiritual world, then this special poem similarly urges us to leave behind the toils and pressures of the everyday. Moreover, it exhorts us not to lie still but, ‘fly with birds.’ Flying higher, like the mystical seagull depicted in the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which the poem reminded of, a story Robbie would have loved. Radiating positivity and hope, the poem focuses on the things that really matter in life, what Robbie aptly described as ‘sowing the enchanting seeds of a cyclic show / in solidarity.’

Yuri Nemoto-Smith’s ’25 for 25′ challenge to mark Robbie’s 25th birthday. (Using a phrase from Robbie’s poetry in every 25 words!)

25 words of poetry per day for 25 days.

Day 1
Lovingly preserved all these years. Sunshine dappled woodland clearing lies suspended in
time. And there you are, caught on my disposable camera, ever lovingly preserved

Day 2
I clutch it tightly as I fall. Curiouser and curiouser miniature worlds open out before me.
Labyrinthine fungal thoughts weave through the expanse of soil.
Day 3
The underground study of an empty room, loading and reloading, filtering words away from
those that belong to me. Where in me do they belong?
Day 4
I fill my days with ignorance unbeknownst to me. Another leaf, reddened, falls outside my
window though, curtains drawn, did it still fall for me?

Day 5
The Sri Maha Bodhi arches its branching body through the ages to come knocking at my
window. My deeds tied to its roots, I grow.

Day 6

King Selbard of Hormino. My first introduction to the possibilities of creativity at even a young
age. Tender ages know no bounds, only exponential growth.

Day 7

‘The best talent to emerge from Hogwarts’ you wrote on the blurb. Even then your humour
seeped through the pages of this long lost jewel.

Day 8

Siblings are funny things, always the butt of the joke. But of jokes there would be few and far
between if the sibling didn’t mope.

Day 9

Each day the sun reminds me how a flower grew in its name. Its admiration cranes its neck
around the earth; embracing though spaces apart.

Day 10

Do mountains ever weep to feel closer to the ground? Do their roots carry knowledge of the
deep deep earth that only rain can befall?

Day 11

Wonder paints a canvas more vibrant than the morning sun, and how bright your paintings
shone in your makeshift gallery in your garden of dreams.

Day 12

I find the time, as it passes, becomes full of possibilities. Avenues and pathways I never
thought to explore. But, your path… where are you?

Day 13

Palmistry guides tell me my health. Tell me how long I’ll live. Tell me how strong I am. When
will I believe it? Should I?

Day 14

The warmest nights in October frost my heart with a bitter chill. Dread fills it like water in a
well, cut off from the light.

Day 15

Yet the devil can walk in a mini skirt and playboy bunny is male. These warm nights are filled
with laughter and such beautiful people

Day 16

But lest we forget the soul of a man forever trapped in pumpkin lanterns lit around the nation.
Wondering Jack lights his way. Lost, lost.

Day 17

Every Snap! in the undergrowth, every Crack! of a branch. The rustle rustle of dead leaves
makes every vertebrae slide into a slowly creeping shiver.

Day 18

Like trees in November the hands of the clock fall once, fall twice, dropping time like leaves
and plucking branches bare. They tumble in winds.

Day 19

Even in the barrenness of desert slopes coasting along the horizon, there is beauty there in
the dry land and details down to the grain.

Day 20

Low is the sun in the early autumn morning, sleepy in its approach to day and still clinging to
the misty tendrils of the night.

Day 21

Is arrogance not the root of humankind if the world does not revolve around you but the
world through your eyes is all you see?

Day 22

If music be the food of love, then what appetising morsels shall this love be fed if its seeker
is lost and stumbling tone deaf?

Day 23

By the wind in the trees and the water running through each stream, I will find my way back
to you every night in dreams.

Day 24

Sleep overcomes me. With each passing moment I feel the world slip away and the comforting darkness wraps warmly, deeply like the midst of winter.

Day 25

The sky shares not its secrets at earth’s polar ends. When you watch the moon, I know you see only the sister who lights her.

Robbie’s poetry in Malawi

Shallom Munthali has been inspired by Robbie’s poetry to write and recite some poetry himself in his class in Malawi.