Free Poetry for Shakespeare

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.

Por ejem­p­lo:

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.

Poetry 4 Free Update

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.

Poetry 4 Free

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.