Poetry Busking

Or why you should always carry small bills

I had a night to myself tonight, and decided to go to Elliott Bay Books, because I am that kind of nerd. It was delightful. I browsed like a happy deer then found the book I came for and a book of stories by someone I like on literary Twitter, AND I filled the final punch on a well-worn punch card, a once-in-many-year event for this library reader, so my impulse book was free.

Then I set out into the dusk to Be Amongst Humanity and walk around Pike Street for a little while. It was thrilling. Nothing like living alone with a toddler during a pandemic to make a person discover their extroversion. I daydream about being packed against strangers’ armpits on crowded light rail trains. Which isn’t exactly extroversion but anyway I digress. There I was, walking past actual people, eating mediocre overpriced artisan ice cream in a tiny compostable cup, when I came upon three humans and a dog set up on a street corner, busking poems. They all, excepting the dog, had type writers, though one of them was drawing neon fish at random on a canvas, and they also may have been a band.

Did I want a poem? Of course I wanted a poem. So while I picked my topic (jellyfish), one of the poets, a thin and hard-living human wearing fishnet tights and a bandana mask, fed a scrap of an old band poster into their typewriter, and began.

That’s when I realized I had no cash. Or, that I had no cash except a Large Bill. And I intended to pay for my poem (poets should be paid!), but maybe I’m chintzy, because the cash felt like too much. So I dug deeper into my wallet, and found a craft store gift card, which I have been carrying for many years somehow, ever since a student gave it to me as a teacher appreciation gift.

The poet finished. I really like this one, they said as they dug their glasses out of their bag (now I can see!) and read me the poem. I really like it too. There’s a wonderful pun on amour and amorphous (which may stem from an unintended spelling mistake), lots of mystery, a satisfying internal rhyme, a sharp end. Put it on your fridge, the poet told me, and I did. And before I left, I gave them the gift card, value unknown but hopefully generous, which I hope will buy lots and lots of neon paint.

The morals of the story are:

  1. Poetry is everywhere. Yay!

  2. Carry cash.

  3. Who knows the value of a poem. Or of ancient gift cards.

The delights of poetry busking go both ways

When you see a poetry busker, you too can commission a poem about a jellyfish, or love or bananas. It’s a genuine way to honor poets and the spontaneous creative spirit in us all.

And who needs lemonade stands! If you have an enterprising young poet on your hands, they too can be poetry buskers. They don’t need to have a typewriter, though it’s a nice touch. They don’t even need to know how to spell. They just need to be willing to let some words on paper quickly. And then to give them away.