I want to tell you about the first time – how I’d never used a manual typewriter before and so the keys beneath my fingertips weighed a couple pounds each. I want to tell you about the line of people that formed at the farmers’ market by our sign, “FREE POEMS,” and I want to tell you about why I keep coming back.
The minutes before the market opened were terrifying – who was I to publicly declare myself a poet and thus insinuate I had something worth saying – but as curious folks approached and we began talking about the things that mattered to them – lima beans, old pets, magic fathers, and new beginnings – my fears subsided. Though I wrote slowly, loudly, and clumsily, once I read my first “finished” poem out loud to a “customer” I was hooked on the liveliness of these heartfelt, artistic exchanges.
Normally my writing was a private, solitary act, but with this new medium, I understood how my words could serve someone besides myself. The poems I wrote mattered not because they were “good,” but because they resulted from an honest conversation between two strangers who both wanted to be seen and heard. The exigence was not competition, as it can sometimes be in a classroom or writing workshop, but the very human desire to use words both spoken and written to connect.
For the last two years, I have continued with this platform because the success of the operation has very little to do with me or the “quality” of my poetry. Each poem is a collaboration rooted in human dialogue, and I am so moved by how very willing people are to be vulnerable in these exchanges. The conditions are casual—there are few stakes lower than a free poem—but I am humbled by the earnesty with which people have approached my table with a word. There’s often a whole story behind a single utterance, and this newsletter is written in the spirit of those stories.