Matt & Colleen asked me to write a poem as a wedding gift for their friends Mark & Robert. One of them is a doctor, and the two of them enjoy jet-setting to Turkey where one of them speaks the language. I think wedding poems are the hardest to write, there's a lot less room for weird shit and you have to end on an up-note, but I'm happy with this one. Here's wishing Mark & Robert many happy returns!
My grandfather was a kitchen-window birdwatcher for as long as I knew him. He really did fill out forms and send them into the Audubon Society for migratory tracking purposes. I am also reasonably certain that at some point he would have watched an episode of Nova about terraforming Mars.
Yes, I've had a lot of fun living with friends in the past. Kayla, Nicole, Clare, & Kaitlin are four roommates, and I can only hope that they enjoy reading pantoums as much as I enjoy writing them.
Lori's family had me type her this poem. They were on their way to a big group dinner to celebrate her promotion. I hope she's enjoying her new job!
One of the most rewarding things about writing poems on demand is having unexpectedly personal interactions with complete strangers. Stacey happened to walk past my table at an event in September with her baby girl in a stroller. She asked for a poem for her daughter. I asked for a few of her daughter's interests, which turned out to include eating, sleeping, and putting things into her mouth. Stacey then mentioned that she had been caring for the baby for several months, but had only that day officially received final approval for adoption of her daughter.
The weight of the whole situation, the strange complexity of the process this family had just gone through, and the emotional significance of the closure that they had been granted really struck me. Of the occasional poems I've been asked to write, it's among those of which I'm most proud.
When we first started dating I let my wife borrow my copy of my favorite book, which she returned annotated with a running commentary in little scraps of paper. It will always be my favorite book. I now have a second copy of the book for loaning out. The copy she borrowed lives on a special shelf under a glass dome display. I only handle it while wearing powder-free nitrile gloves. I have day dreams about our children fighting over who will inherit when we die.
"Making Your Own Days" is the title of a great book about reading and writing poetry by the teacher and poet Kenneth Koch. Koch borrowed the title from a poem by his friend Frank O'Hara, and I borrowed it again for this poem, which was a gift for a mother of three who has started a successful business designing, printing, and selling her own day-planners. (Get it?) The gift was from her youngest daughter, who mentioned Scrabble as a favorite family activity. Also "jot" is an excellent Scrabble word. If you want to dominate 95% of the population in Scrabble go memorize all the 2 and 3 letter words, but be warned that it won't make you any friends.
(Ok, I stole the title from Koch & O'Hara, but they were both done with it and at least I was stealing from the best.)
At a Pop-up Sunday last Summer someone named Patricia asked me to write a poem on several subjects. I forget what most of them were because after finishing the list and starting to walk away she quickly turned and added "Oh, and put birds in there!" I'm not sure how I resisted including a Portlandia reference in this poem, but I'm glad I did.
Regular visitors here will know that my wife is an artist and illustrator. Our desks are right beside each other, so I enjoy being able to watch her works-in-progress take shape over time. Still the other day, she posted an image that took me by surprise and delighted me beyond words.
I love this vampiric alpaca so much. It has me in its thrall. My blood is its blood. If this alpaca told me to steal blossoms from Emily Dickinson's garden for its flower crown I would be on the next plane to Amherst.
You can find out more about how it came about here, but essentially Tyler is participating in this month's Creative Unblock assignment from the Jealous Curator, who has a whole book full of assignments to get you off your butt and making art. I haven't read the book (yet), but since Poems Typed Fresh is all about me getting off my butt and making art, I thought I'd share Tyler's picture along with the following poem for my new camelid muse.
Lesson: Poems make poor recipes.
When I was very young a now notorious tornado destroyed many structures in the Tennessee Valley region where I grew up, including my school and my Grandparents home. I later told my parents that Grandma's house "got poofed."
Hannah asked for a poem about nature. Incidentally, that's what word I'd meant to type in line 21: "nature" not "batyre." Also, the Ken Burns documentary about Frank Lloyd Wright's life is highly recommended.
Yvonne's son, Owen had just graduated college and was making plans for the next phase of his life. For a while he was seriously considering a turn driving the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. This is true. His mother told me. Instead, a friend gave him a one-way ticket to Alaska where Owen has spent the last year, presumably climbing glaciers, drinking cowboy coffee from an enameled camp mug, and writing the great american novel by lamplight. I am jealous of Owen's sense of adventure.
My wife, Tyler, blows me away sometimes. Not only is she graciously supportive of a husband prone to disappearing to write poems for strangers, but she is also a an incredibly talented artist as well. Recently, she painted wedding invitations our friends Remi and Nu. Since many of Remi's family members hail from France, while many of Nu's relatives are from Vietnam, Tyler painted them a three-panel, multilingual invitation that everyone could enjoy.
Not only did Tyler put together a beautiful invitation that reflected Remi and Nu's interests and personalities, but she also hand painted a unique place card for every guest who came to the wedding. The place cards represented fond memories and stories from the many places that Remi and Nu have explored together. The France table had cards with champagne and pastries. The San Francisco table had the Golden Gate bridge. The Chicago table had live jazz, and something called the "Hot Dog King."
All in all my creative, wonderful, crazy wife painted almost seventy miniature masterpieces. You can check them all out at her website, tylre.com, which also features a number of her other projects and miscellaneous creations.
Watching Tyler make art is one of my favorite things in the world. Her work inspires me to push myself and try new things. She understands the ups and downs of being creative. She encourages me when I'm frustrated and is my biggest supporter when things are going well. Basically, I married well and though I'd get a little braggy about it. I also think you'll love her art, so check it out!
At the June pop-up market one of the other vendors, Ned from Go Local Produce, asked if I'd be willing to trade a poem for a giant bag of fresh fruit & vegetables. Yes. Yes, I would! To be clear, he specifically asked for a "cheesy love poem" for his "teeny tiny cutie pie" wife.
Luke and Abel are brothers, aged 20 months & 1 month respectively. Their interests include goldfish crackers and the muppet stylings of Sesame Street's Grover. They are fortunate enough to live on a Lake and to have grandparents who request that strangers in parking lots type poems for them.
Chuck has made the peculiar life choice of studying ticks & mosquitos professionally. Against those odds he has also maintained the affections of a family of humans that saw fit to mark the occasion of his 69th birthday with a poem.
My family has somehow managed to preserve a camp in the Adirondacks of upstate New York for several generations now. As such, each Summer I get to visit some truly impressive ferns and also to explore the many nooks & crannies of a very old cabin that my relatives have packed full of books, bedpans, bearskin rugs, and other treasures over the course of the last century.
During my time there this July I happened to look between a wall and a desk, neither of which had moved much for as long as I've been visiting them, to find what I immediately recognized as a typewriter case.
I opened it to find a beautiful Underwood portable typewriter, which I was told would have belonged to my Great Grandmother, Clara Turnbull. When I asked my grandmother and aunt how they could be sure this was Clara's machine they basically laughed at me. This was an office machine in a vacation home. Clara was the hostess. She was the boss. No one else would have been typing much at camp. They'd have been too busy fishing, sailing, and napping.
I spent the afternoon cleaning it as much as I could, not wanting to take it apart and risk messing up the precise sequencing that its mechanisms are assembled in. I didn't want to risk stuffing it in an overhead bin, so when my family drives back down at the end of the Summer they'll bring it with them. I plan to have it professionally cleaned and serviced. Though, aside from the decades of dust & buildup it was in great condition.
It's technically a Universal F-Model, and its serial number dates its production to 1939. That's a decade before my grandparents were married and only a few years prior to Underwood's temporary hiatus from manufacturing typewriters during World War II.
One of my favorite things about typewriters is that I will never own a brand new one.
When you write with a typewriter you enter a lineage of users who have relied on it to serve its one purpose for years. I realize that this is a romantic notion. In most cases your typing predecessors would probably have been typing some pretty mundane stuff. For every typewriter that was used to type novels and poems there are thousands that were office workhorses, hammered away upon to churn out wills and tax forms. That's why I was excited to find Clara's Underwood.
I know nothing about this specific machine's history, when or where it was purchased, but I know enough about my great-grandmother to make a few assumptions about how she would have used it. My family used to spend most of the summer months in camp, driving in from New York City and Pittsburgh. This machine is a portable, and there was a fair amount of wear on the case, so it could have made that trip with them yearly. I'm guessing it stayed at camp though, where it would have been used primarily for writing letters to the outside world.
Had Clara lived during a time when women ran companies she would have been a captain of industry. Instead she devoted her attention and intellect into managing her household and her family. My grandfather (her son-in-law) used to tell the story of her sending him out to buy materials to put a new roof on our house at camp. Glancing up at the house and back at a piece of paper, she made a few quick calculations and told him to buy what ultimately proved to be the exact number of shingles for the project. I think about this story often while making repeat trips to Home Depot while doing weekend housework.
Clara was a natural leader, incredibly focused, smart, and organized. Her legacy and character looms large in my family's stories. I think it's safe to say that if she hadn't been in charge of running my family's camp I might not have had the opportunity to explore it while growing up. I couldn't be more excited to have found her typewriter, and to now have the opportunity to use it after her. I plan to write quite a few letters with it.