Street Poetry at the Arkansas Literary Festival

Fresh Ribbon

Despite the spitting rain, the Arkansas Literary Festival was in full swing today at the River Market in Little Rock, and the Great Bear Writing Project was there. We manned (womanned) a booth under the tents to greet visiting teachers from all over and to spread the National Writing Project gospel. It’s our site’s tenth anniversary, so we had cake and giveaway drawings and books. Oh my.

More importantly, we had a typewriter and two reams of manifold paper. Anyone with a hankering to make poetry could sashay by, type a bit, and leave with a finished bit of writing. We strung a little clothesline and hung each poet’s copy with a few clothespins. The storm neared, the winded whipped, and the poetry flowed.

Even poet and fractal artist Terry Wright took a break from hawking copies of The Exquisite Corpse to slam out a poem. It’s been a while since he’s composed on a machine, but I think he awakened the hunger for an old manual machine. Terry says he used to be an Underwood man, so I’ll dig under the bed and find one he can use.

The storm we expected at noon failed to materialize, and bought the street poets a couple of hours. Who were our best customers? Young kids and college students. They couldn’t keep their hands off the Royal. There’s just something about poetry on a typewriter – no laptop can replicate the aesthetic.

My favorite poet of the day was a fifth grader who, bless her heart, went into a semi-zen state while typing her poem. There’s nothing quite like watching the birth of a writer. When her moment was done, she whipped the paper out and asked to read aloud to all of us.
These are the moments writing teachers live for. The child read triumphantly and had us all in the palm of her hand. After our ovation, she watched us pin one of the copies to the clothesline, hanging on to the original like a sacred object. Her eyes went back and forth from the poem in her hand to the clothes pinned poem flapping in the pre-storm winds. If she forgets that moment it won’t matter, because we’ll never forget.

A couple of hours and a celebratory sheet cake later, the bottom fell out of the sky there at the River Market. Every author and book seller under the tents scrambled to save copies from the downpour and themselves from the lightning. The Great Bear Writing Project loaded up in a hurry because down here, we don’t fool around with the weather and second-guess a storm.
Besides, everyone knows typewriters and water are a bad combination.

6 thoughts on “Street Poetry at the Arkansas Literary Festival

  1. Members of my writing group described a similar scene at their first meeting (which I tried to attend, but couldn\’t because of a panic attack…well, it\’s a long story) in which the 4th-grade daughter of the group\’s founder composed a poem during the meeting, and read it aloud.We\’re currently trying to arrange a separate, kids group for the three daughters of group members who have shown an interest (including my own Gretchen, she of the complicated pet-fantasy narratives and the Smith Corona Classic 12).

  2. The second photo makes me think of Tibetan prayer flags. Tibetans scrawl prayers on squares of cloth which are then strung together on a line and left to flap in the mountain winds. With each flap of the flags, the winds cast the prayers heavenwards.I like to think that you were casting poetry aloft on the breezes, invisibly mingling amongst the pedestrians and subconsciously infusing them with the urge to write.

  3. Duffy, I love that you\’re arranging a kids writing group for the daughters. Girls are so empowered by writing. The young lady in the picture asked her mama (who was nearby and camera-shy) for a typewriter, so the legacy goes on. Just thinking about it makes me weepy again.Olivander, I think you\’re right. You could smell poetry in the air and people were drawn to the typewriter like we were a food stand puffing out olfactory deliciousness. Even those who didn\’t write were mesmerized by the flapping poems on the clothesline. Next year we\’re doing this again and adding more portables. At least three, maybe four. I\’m going to need more copy-sets, that\’s for sure.

  4. Monda, looks like the fine folks in Austin have raised the bar on this art form a bit. If it\’s still up, take a look at this story about an art piece called \”Pink Unplugged\”People could sit down and type up a love letter on an old typewriter, hand it off to one of the pink-clad volunteers, who then sent it down the assembly line and carted it off on a bicycle to be delivered to your loved one.I think your own lovely script machines are perfectly suited for such a task.

  5. What a fabulous idea! Can you imagine a table full of my old cursive machines churning out the love? I\’m stealing this idea. Count on it.

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