Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vend Some Poetry

Like Mike, I will soon be moving. In my case, it's because my job evaporated in a strong, bright wave of corporate cutbacks. Oh well!

I mention my new freedom here because it's had a strange effect on my writing and reading life. I assumed productivity would bloom inside my apartment and I'd spend vast chunks of day reading, typing, editing, posting. Really, my pace has slowed. I tend to open a document, start typing, then think about all the other things I've planned for the day, then walk to the laundry room and start laundry, then make coffee, then stare out at construction workers assembling ever more attachments to the new theater across the street, then start typing, then open my email. The new expanse of my day is like a lake of tasty green Jell-O I leap into each morning, then smack around at, sinking but sugar-high.

The situation seems to be improving lately, and I suspect that I'll fall into a really almost perfect rhythm just as I find a new position.

I've spent some of my final evenings here in Orlando working as part of the Poetry Vending Machine, a benefit for the city's Fringe Festival. This is a project that has been run for several years by local spoken word artist Tod Caviness. (I was introduced to Tod by J. Bradley, who rehabilitated my idea of lit culture in this city.) There is a table near the outdoor stage, in the same loose jumble as the booze and barbecue vendors, and you, the customer, approach the table and for five dollars, which goes to the festival, you can write a title and a string of words and somebody behind the table will write you a poem in twenty minutes. You can also pay one dollar and somebody will write you a haiku.

I am not a poem-y guy, but I have written a few poems and I have enjoyed this project so far. For the most part we sit in lawn furniture and drink beer while strangely dressed people wander around. Sometimes people bring their dogs over. There's one man with whom I've enjoyed discussing new SF novels that he keeps pulling from his backpack. I know almost no one, but get the sense of a strong community buzzing around from theater to theater.

I have also learned a little about the expectations different people bring to poetry, and to writing in general. After knocking out 200 flash pieces in my Story Every Day project I thought I'd be an easy fit for this, but have found that some puzzle boards are very hard to squeeze words into.

If you ask for the word "heart" to be included in your title, you are probably not going to be thrilled with the poem we provide you.

If you ask for a poem featuring the phrase "death squad," you will probably be happy with the poem we provide you.

If you want a poem for your mother/wife/daughter on the occasion of her birthday, you will probably be happy with the poem we provide you but we will feel as if we have swum in pancake syrup after writing it.

If you are a hyper and awkwardly flirty teenager, you will probably laugh at any poem we provide you and then fold it into your pocket and stand around for too long.

If you demand an ABAB rhyme structure, you will come across as a dick but probably reveal yourself to be kind of funny as we write your poem.

If you provide as a prompt a prop you found on the ground, you will probably come back later, drunk, to discuss any poem we provide you.

1 comment:

  1. We did something like this at the annual hunger benefit at NMSU and I always loved writing poetry this way. I came up with this one really brilliant thing I can barely remember. All I know is at one point I spelled out "hunger" over the course of two lines ("H-U-N / G-E-R") and then "whiskey" over two more ("W-H-I / S-K-E-Y") I think. I should always write my first (poetry) drafts that way.