Busking poet composes on command

By Robin Dudley of the Leader
Posted 10/20/15

There's a new kind of busker about – wielding a typewriter.

"Give me a word, I'll give you a poem," the sign reads. Behind the sign are a typewriter on a folding table and a poet on a folding …

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Busking poet composes on command

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There's a new kind of busker about – wielding a typewriter.

"Give me a word, I'll give you a poem," the sign reads. Behind the sign are a typewriter on a folding table and a poet on a folding chair. Jeremy M. Brownlowe is a busking poet from Portland, Oregon, who spent a few days in Port Townsend last week, setting up a small portable desk on the Water Street sidewalk.

He'd been there since 1 p.m., and had been busy, when at about 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 25, a local man asked for a poem about "resilience." Ten minutes later, the poet was done; he read the poem aloud to his customer and a few passersby, then rolled up the paper and handed it over, receiving a tip in return.

Brownlowe, 30, got the idea from a woman he met at a poetry reading in Flagstaff, Arizona, at the beginning of a three-month cross-country road trip last March. They'd been talking about ways to make money, and the woman suggested busking to make some extra cash on the road, he said.

"I typed from Tucson to New York City and back, in every city and town," and met some other typewriter poets along the way; there's a typewriter poet network, he said. "I just love the traveling lifestyle." This is his first trip to Port Townsend, where he chose a spot in front of the World's End store, drawn to the decor in the window, "the old-style Victorian haunting feel."

Business was brisk that day; he wrote poems for people's grandmothers, wedding and anniversary poems, and more. There was "a rather silly one that was about a junk drawer." Another person asked for a poem about the importance of family.

"This old man came up and wanted me to write a poem about a boat he lost off the coast of Oregon about 20 years ago," Brownlowe said. "It was almost like he was talking about a lover or something, how he misses the boat, how he thinks about it every day.

"That's what's really meaningful to me," Brownlowe said of his avocation, "getting to hear other people's stories."

Brownlowe, a self-taught writer, said the spontaneity and being on the spot helps him get over writer's block. "I try to compose as quickly as possible, otherwise I get obsessive about form," something, he said, "I don't know anything about ... or the literary canon."

He likes Rumi, and also the Beat-era poets, and the poetry of a memoirist named Michelle Tea, from San Francisco. "I just like the way that she puts words on the page. Seems to be very free-flowing."

Brownlowe doesn't post a price; it's on a sliding scale. "I got one of the biggest tips I ever got in Port Townsend. He gave me 40 bucks," which struck Brownlowe as ironic because the poem was about "the capitalist glut of America." The word was "malfeasance – wrongdoing, especially by a public official," he said.

"Generally, I would say that people come up to me who crave some sort of connection ... That's a positive experience for me, to try to be of service to people.

"I would say my poetry on the street is some sort of divination offering affirmation and inspiration to the people I write for."

Port Townsend has "a very good vibe ... an old sleepy seaport type of town [with] old-timey charm." He said that he's "really impressed by the buskers I've seen so far. ... I feel like they really fit in here, and I feel like I do, too."

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