Check out these great photos that Cleveland Public Library took while I was downtown this summer writing poems for their First Folio exhibit!
The Cleveland Public Library asked me to come do Poetry 4 Free in the Eastman Reading Garden on a couple of dates this summer as part of their celebration of the Folger Shakespeare Library First Folio exhibit.
I had fun — it’s been a couple of years since I was downtown writing poetry on the fly for folks, but I pretty much took right back to it. I wrote 11 Shakespeare-inspired poems in 2 hours. Folks could either give me a favorite passage, or pick from a few that I had selected.
— Free Poetry (@Poetry4Free) June 28, 2016
Some folks had no idea who Shakespeare was, and others related horrified anecdotes from college. A few people just grabbed a quote and took off without letting me write a poem for them. Everybody seemed like they were having a good time.
— Cleveland Digital PL (@ClevDPL) June 28, 2016
Today I wrote my 50th poem in my Poetry 4 Free project. It’s been great fun so far; despite the heavy mocking from my coworkers and the obvious & unspoken doubtfulness from certain folks I know, it has fulfilled, at least in part, all of the goals I had in mind when I started this back in April.
I’m definitely less afraid to write. I have become much better at taking a topic and starting to write on it immediately. I think the poems I produce in 5–10 minutes could be deemed fair for that time frame. I’ve gotten into a few ruts though, and have been trying to change up my methods in order to keep things fresh. I don’t want to be a poem factory, so the repetition is a bad from which I am attempting to draw some good.
I received open-armed permission from the wonderful folks at the Cleveland Public Library to set up every Friday in the Eastman Reading Garden, and post-facto benediction from the lady who manages Star Plaza for Playhouse Square Development. I didn’t realize it wasn’t a public park.
Lots of people give the side-eye, fewer stop for a poem, and, it seems, a large majority of the folks that do stop are interested in telling a story about the dude with the hand-painted sign and a typewriter. The first was a post on Captured Cleveland. Dan Moulthrop from Civic Commons stopped by for a poem and tweeted about it. A fellow writing for Edible Cleveland wanted to put a blurb about me in an article on Walnut Wednesdays. A collage artist asked to use my poem & photo in one of her works. My friend David Jurca even stopped by and took some video one day. Another day, another fellow did so.
I’ve had several folks ask for poems as gifts, and a few return to tell me how much the poem was appreciated. I’ve had sad and poignant requests from estranged husbands, sweet requests from loving wives, silly requests and challenging ones. I’ve written about everything from mortality to anal bleaching. I once accepted a silver dime as a tip, and I still feel vaguely guilty about that.
I’m having a blast, even on days when I get skunked. But I’m also starting to sense that the current status quo isn’t as fulfilling as it once was. I may need fresh ground to cover (I plan on setting up shop in Lincoln Park during the Arts in August events), or I may just be feeling too at ease with the paradigm. I’m open to suggestions about how to shuffle the project in different ways, and I’m very interested in further ways that I can make it less about me. One thing I need to do is write poetry outside of this project. I’ve been very prolific for me, but the practice has resulted in little actual poetry game time. Another change to be conscious of.
You can follow this project on Twitter @Poetry4Free; find out where I’ll be and stop by for a poem. I hope you will.
This summer, at the very least, I’ll be erratically planting myself in various semi-populated places around Cleveland where there is foot traffic with a sign that says “Poetry 4 FREE” and a typewriter. I’m hoping that folks will stop and ask me for a poem. They give me the subject and I write it for them, right then. They walk away with the poem, and hopefully I’ve gotten a bit better at writing them. If this sounds intriguing to you, you can follow @Poetry4Free on Twitter to find out where I’ll be.
Many years ago, I read an article about a professor who ran a summer poetry program for high school students. One of the things they ended up doing was camping out in the town and writing impromptu poems for strangers/passerby. I wish I could find the article. I’m sure it took place on the East Coast, and I keep thinking Jersey. (Help.) I told my friend RA Washington about appropriating this idea around the same time, and, true to form, he’d already been there. Chopping out poems for fivers in Public Square. (My details may be a bit hazy here as well.) When I decided to finally get rolling with it, quite recently, I mentioned the project to my friend Kevin and he immediately brought up Abigail Mott, who has, and perhaps still is, doing basically the same thing.
So this idea isn’t even remotely original, but I’m doing it and here’s why.
Because I’m arrogant
I have extremely high self-esteem. I think that folks might actually be interested in having a complete stranger write them a poem, on the spot. I think that I can do it, and be good at it.
To practice humility
I need to keep my ego reined, so I am giving the poetry away; the only copy. If it’s the best poem I’ll ever write, I’ll be letting it go with whomever requested it. I’ll be letting go of control for a change. I’m not asking for money, I’m not even promoting myself. I’m still going back and forth on putting my name on the poems I produce.
Because I’m a coward
I rarely do any thing publicly because I’m afraid of sucking, being ignored, or being dismissed. This should help me sack up a bit.
To practice writing
I need to write more, and having someone else give me a topic means that I get to practice without feeling the guilt that I’m just ego tripping. Even though, in most ways, I still think I am.
Hopefully I’ll see you out there.