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Letter suggests Kilmer’s ‘Trees’ was penned in New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. – The location of the trees that Joyce Kilmer wrote were more lovely than any poem has long been in dispute, with a handful of towns from Massachusetts to Indiana claiming to have inspired the verse.

But a New Jersey historian said he now has irrefutable proof Kilmer was stirred by the woods of the Ramapo Valley when he penned the well-known words, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.”

Alex Michelini of the Joyce Kilmer Society in Mahwah said Friday a letter written in 1929 by Kilmer’s widow, Aline, to a graduate student shows the poem, “Trees,” was written on Feb. 2, 1913 at the couple’s former home in Mahwah.

A notebook Michelini found at Georgetown University’s Lauinger Library in Washington contains the first two lines of the poem, written in neat black cursive on a yellow page.

Michelini said the notebook, which was actually a repurposed address book, is the “holy grail” for he and others who have spent years trying to prove Kilmer wrote the poem in Mahwah.

“I think it’s important for literary history to know that Kilmer wrote ‘Trees’ in Mahwah, N.J.,” Michelini said.

Indeed, the area where the Kilmers lived, on Airmount Road, remains heavily wooded.

“Mahwah is all trees,” Michelini said. “Even though there’s been a lot of dispute about what inspired him, I’m convinced he was inspired by the trees around Mahwah, looking out his window.”

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