I recently watched A Place of Truth—and everything I thought I knew about poetry has turned inside out. About a traveling poet named Abi Mott, the documentary explores the world of poems-on-demand from her experiences.
Unashamedly truthful, Abi makes her living from poetry busking. She sits at a small wooden table on street corners with a sign that reads Name a price. Pick a subject. Get a poem. People can ask for a poem about anything, and she types it for them on the spot.
It’s performance verse—it goes beyond “living in the now.” Abi, and other poets-for-hire like her, are creating in the now. Poetry is spilling out of the chapbook, off the shelf and onto the street. Poet and reader become partners in the act of creativity. It’s a union of words, the act of love between minds—literary coitus. And now I can’t sleep.
I came out of the closet as a poet last November when I published In Favor of Pain as a birthday present to myself. I had sworn off poetry in my teens during my short stay in high school. High school lasted about a month for me, and then I began a five year sabbatical to find myself.
Like Abi, I did a lot of couch surfing, leaving poems as thank yous because I had nothing else (I wanted) to give. I also slept in the backs of cars, homeless shelters, a train station in Montreal and a few doorways. It was a difficult, hungry existence that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Those years lay the foundations for who I am.
Then, when I turned 23, I buried those foundations to hide them from polite society. Erosion and time let some of them show, backbones of stone peeking up through layers of proper sod.
Returning to poetry last year has sent tremors through my world I couldn’t have anticipated. What was buried has erupted, spilling stone and bone across a once sleeping vista. Caffeinated nights have taken over as words and ideas chase each other without rest. The muse, once safely contained, has shaken off the tranquilizers to awaken as a demanding harpy. I thought I’d left this, years behind. I find myself grateful for the return.
This is what poetry is for. It prods the spirit, driving us into awareness. Like a doctor, poetry breaks to heal, and then re-breaks us again. Edifying, fortifying, mystifying—the words on the page are individual and for the masses simultaneously. Like an Escher, it changes perspective each time we experience it. Poetry refuses to let us hide. It’s unapologetic and truthful.
“When I’m sitting here in my chair,” said Abi. “” I feel very authentic. I’ll write you a poem. I’m not going to tell you it’s the greatest poem you’ve ever read but it will be true… to now.” Here is to poetry spilling freely onto the streets, breaking into everyday life, and teaching us to be authentic.