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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Local poets offer their services pro bono

Free Poets on Demand offer poems during a Free Market event on Edgewood
What's the going rate for a poem? A first edition of Leaves of Grass will run you six figures, though you can probably find a used paperback copy for a buck or two. If you're looking for a poem written just for you, though, Free Poems on Demand has the right price.

The group of about ten Atlanta-based poets has been popping up at events around the city, offering to write poems for anyone who asks. We caught up with founding member Jimmy Lo earlier this week to ask him a few questions about the group.

How did the project come about?

The Atlanta version of Free Poems started at the Decatur Book Festival in September, 2010. I did something similar in Tucson, Arizona in 2003, with some friends at the University of Arizona (Dawn Pendergast, Aaron Zaritzky, Michael Rerick, and others). I thought that the idea would work great in Atlanta too, and some of my friends were more than happy to help: Jon Ciliberto, Zac Denton, Jeff Dahlgren, Robin Bernat, John Selvidge, and others.

The basic idea: we set up a table and people come up to request poems on any topic. Then they wait—usually about 5 minutes—and when the poem is done, we read it aloud and give it to them. We wanted a way to cut through the staid poetry publishing process that usually makes people think of stuffy metaphors and iambic pentameter. We wanted something immediate, free, and relevant to people's lives. Also, it was very important that the poetry was written on the spot, and in one draft, so that it at once becomes a challenge, a performance, and a form of spontaneous communication between poet and reader.

Reception has been really positive. People are always surprised to find that the poems are free, and that they are one-of-a-kind custom-written for them. It seems to run counter to the trend of cookie-cutter commercialization they are used to. The first event was so successful that we decided to do it again at East Atlanta Village Strut, Chomp & Stomp, Earball at Eyedrum, and the Free Market at CouchCouch Theater. All past events are documented on our website

Have you come across anyone doing this sort of project before?

Yes, just recently I read an article online about a group of poets doing something similar in Florida called the Miami Poem Depot. There are a few differences (for example, they use typewriters, and they charge a small fee for each poem) but the basic idea is the same. I am really encouraged by the idea that many poem-on-demand projects could pop up and flourish around the world. It is a simple, fun idea that can be taken anywhere, with almost no investment.

Any upcoming events or related projects you'd like to let us know about?

We are in the planning stages for a Valentines Day themed event at {Poem88} Tanner-Hill Gallery on February 12. We are also thinking about a collaboration with the Dance Truck (a changeable/portable dance venue) to possibly write live poems for their next event. These are both tentative and subject to change. Please visit for more details as they are solidified.

Visit Free Poems on Demand to hear recordings and read the poems written from past event.

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