Love Letters to a City: Lindsay Zier-Vogel’s Epistolary Project

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A woman in her late 20s is walking down Queen Street and stops in front of a bicycle. She opens her bag and pulls out an airmail envelope. There is a hole punctured on the side with a piece of string attached, the woman crouches and ties the string to the handle. The next morning the bike receives another visitor, the owner. The word “love” is scrawled on the bottom right corner of the dangling envelope; inside she finds a love poem.

The carefully constructed note was created by Lindsay Zier-Vogel, who has been scattering these anonymous love letters around Toronto for eight years. Not your traditional love letters, these poems gush with emotion for places or things, not humans.

The bicycle owner, Zahra Ebrahim, was an arbitrary recipient of one of the 2,000 letters that have been distributed. In 2008 Ebrahim was new to Toronto and newly single. When she found the note, she pondered who was responsible: whether she had a secret admirer, whether the note had been a random act of kindness or misplaced. The red floral poem sat on Ebrahim’s bookshelf until March, 2012. While driving she heard a woman discuss her love-lettering project on CBC Radio’s Definitely Not The Opera. Ebrahim pulled the car over and started Googling. She found Zier-Vogel’s website, and e-mailed her explaining how the note made her feel welcomed.

Zier-Vogel, 32, is also a freelance writer, an arts educator and is working on her first novel. This past summer she invited the public to join her, hosting 13 love-lettering events. For a quarter of her life she has been performing this summertime public service of writing odes for Toronto in order to combat the negativity surrounding big-city living.

The idea sparked in summer of 2004 when Zier-Vogel was sitting in Trinity Bellwoods Park composing love poems as an exercise with her friend Rhya Tamasauskas. Being crafts-orientated, they penned their poems on scraps of patterned paper, inserted them into airmail envelopes and placed them around the park. Zier-Vogel was exhilarated, thinking about all the strangers the letters might find.

Two years later she revived her odd ritual, concealing love letters in Robarts Library while completing her Master’s. During these past six years she has e-mailed friends and family for source material about their first kiss locations and favourite places. “It’s really incredible this year,” says Zier-Vogel, because she’s engaging with new communities.

Though she still needs financial help for the project, last year the Awesome Foundation awarded Zier-Vogel $1,000 in cash – to pay for envelopes, easels and her website. All the paper is donated. Zier-Vogel hopes to expand the love-lettering project to other cities, if she can find partner organizations.

“The whole idea of the love letter itself is sort of passé, with everyone texting each other and e-mailing each other. The fact that people need to slow down and think about what they want to write and then actually physically write it out,” says Lisa Elchuk, a love-lettering volunteer, “That resonates with older people as well as young people.”