Monday, August 10, 2009

The street poet of Haight/Ashbury (he gets paid in cash!!)

I have an inspiring story for all you writers dealing with the recession.

The other day, I met a young poet named Lynn Gentry, who types out instant poems at the famous corner of Haight and Ashbury. He composes his poems behind a hand-lettered sign that reads: PICK A SUBJECT AND PRICE, THEN A POEM.''

Follow the instructions: set your price, pick a subject and talk it over with the poet. Then he types it out, taking between three to 10 minutes on his Smith-Corona typewriter, propped on a table near Ben & Jerry's. He's so popular, with such a long line in front of him, that it was hard to extract much biographical info from him; he's too busy to talk much. People come from all around to watch him type. In this age of Twitter and (ahem), blogging, Lynn creates work for individual customers and makes no copies for himself; he never sees his words again. "It doesn't bother me,'' he says. "I forget most of my lyrics anyhow.''

Best of all, he's a poet who is turning a profit -- and he gets paid in cash.

A man in front of me ordered up a poem about baseball and marijuana -- two subjects in one for the price of a dollar. Gentry's poem included a line that alluded to both subjects:

"...smell the grass after a good cut...''

I waited in a very long line to talk with him. The crowd was fixated on him, and they wouldn't stop staring at him, even when a freak showed up and started belching out a horrible rendition of "Billie Jean'' by Michael Jackson. A burly man brushed past him and shouted out, "What you are doing is so C-O-O-L.'' When it was my turn, I ordered up a poem about "being a writer during a recession.'' My price was two bucks.

Immediately he got to work. He pecked away at the typewriter, cleared his throat, leaned into the paper and blacked out a couple of vowels with a ballpoint pen. At the end of the poem, he affixed his myspace address. A few minutes later, he handed me the poem, and I'll quote from part of it here:

...when you write in recession
You can write the best book you have ever written
then you have to wait for the economy to change
so that people don't have to choose between
Feeding their kids
and reading a book about the struggle of life after a death
in the family of a low middle class family who lost the father
They want to hear it, they just don't want to have to pay for it.

I thanked him and gave him his two dollars, plus a tip of 150 percent. After all, the economy is in a slump, and writers must help each other out or else. (the total bill worked out to be five bucks.)

Best of luck, Mr. Gentry, and I'll see you out in the street.


Anonymous said...

"The best times I ever had in my life with friends is when we actively participated in the moment seeing each other not as we want to see each other but seeing each other for who we are, getting excited for what we are and becoming something more just because life's revelation looks so good we could not help but want to retain it in ourselves."
Lynn Gentry 2010

cactuseaters said...

More well-chosen words from Lynn Gentry. Thanks for sending this in -- and it makes me homesick for the Haight!