It was my first day sitting around with my typewriter today passing out poems. I am planning to sit with a sign that says: “your poem, your price” eventually. People name a subject and a price, then I write. I feel obliged to refine my skills at impromptu quick poems before I set up shop, so today I sat with a sign that read “FREE POEMS” at Dolores Park.
It’s my first Saturday since moving to the Bay. I don’t really know many people here and I had no idea what to do with myself. I found out that the Really Really Free Market happens at Dolores Park the last Saturday of the month. I decided I would give out poems. I made it to the park and no Free Market, so I wandered around amazed at the number of people laying in the grass. It seemed like an outdoor festival, but it was just a public space with somewhere soft to sit, which is so fucking rare in San Francisco.
I found a nice spot to set-up. I unfolded my little folding chair. Pulled out my typewriter with my sign and put it on my lap. I was writing a poem about graduating and moving to the Bay for a few minutes, when someone stopped and asked for a poem. I asked for a subject or title, and he said “newness.” He had just returned from traveling in India and Nepal, said he felt out of place back in the States.
I had torn up quarter sheets of parchment paper so the poems would look aged, but wouldn’t be too long. He was the first person to stop. He seemed excited to receive the poem, like it meant something for his return, for this point in his path.
All sorts of people stopped. People saw the sign, and if they didn’t see the sign, they picked-up on what was happening pretty quickly. Old and young people stopped, people of many colors and bodies stopped, people from the US and elsewhere stopped. Children seemed the most interested. I think because they have never seen a typewriter and because they haven’t been habituated out of curiosity.
People asked me to write about love, birthdays, parks, vampires vs. werewolves, vampire-tooth-fairies turning santa into a vampire, werelions vs. zombies, guns, having a love interest where things don’t quite meet up, self-liberation, psychic orgasms, how to love with HIV, and a few others. Can you guess which ones the kids suggested?
Two poems made their recipient cry: 1) how to love with HIV, and 2) birthday. It surprised me to have an impact on people because our world is so damn stimulated. I felt glad to see people effected by poetry. There was a little line at one point. I never guessed it would unfold like this. I thought I would end up spending most of the day by myself, but I ended up writing for like 6 hours straight. The typewriter has a novelty that seemed to draw people to my set-up. One little girl sat with me for like an hour as people came in and out. She was obsessed with the moving of the typewriter’s arms.
At some point a photographer took polaroid pictures of me. He gave me some photos as a treat for all the poems I gave out. One person gave me a bottle of organic juice. It was fun to see the little community and the exchanges that emerged out of my activity. A number of people gave me money even though I told them the poems were free.
I love typewriter writing poems. When I write in my journal or on my computer, I have a permanent copy. It makes me overly attached to my word choice, and it can even inhibit my writing. If I have a journal with poems I really like, I sometimes don’t write in it unless I think I have something deep moving through me. With the typewriter and my poem set-up, I write and hand it out. There’s no artifact I keep, no attachment.
After my hours of handing out poems, I found that the back-right part of my brain had been lifting weights. I felt a little disoriented because I had been starring at my typewriter for so long and I felt really lonely after all the people had left. It’s okay to feel lonely though. It was an anti-climatic ending riding my bike slowly to the BART to ride to Emeryville by myself, but I couldn’t have asked for a better first day of handing out poems.