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.