Pay What You Want Poetry

After visiting the Rocktoberfest music festival I’d seen while giving a tour with Discover Sarasota Tours on Saturday, I decided to return on Sunday. I drove the van for the Psychic Tour until 3:00, and since my motorcycle was in the shop awaiting a new throttle cable, I asked one of the other guides to drop me off on his way home. I found a spot of shade in the amphitheater by the Doughboy statue as the rest of JD Hamel Park was filled with music and vendors, and I set up shop.

I placed my 1959 Royal Futura 800 typewriter on top of its case in front of me and placed my tip bucket next to it. On the back of the “Steve McAllister Motorcycling Music Across America” sign I had made up for my summer tour, I used a Sharpie to write “PAY WHAT YOU WANT POETRY” just as I had written “THANK YOU” on the tip bucket. I had already cut up some of my typing paper into quarters, and fed the first piece into the carriage.

I started with a free verse poem that went as follows…

It begins…

the way that it always does

with an ordinary moment

turned extraordinary

by the mirror application of attention

to see you little differently

to realize the option

to be different

for this moment is different

this moment is

a now that has never existed before

and only in this now…

only in this moment

only with this modicum of attention

will this moment be the

magical, miraculous

extraordinary moment

that it is capable of being

if we can only see it

I dropped the poem into the tip bucket, loaded another small sheet of paper, and started another poem. A few lines in, two ladies from Lakewood Ranch approached with cash in hand, and I loaded a clean sheet of paper while asking what they wanted their poems to be about and whether they wanted rhymes or free verse. “Give me a few minutes,” I said, then took a deep breath before writing the title in all caps and beginning the poem.

Each poem took about five to ten minutes to write, but I wasn’t actually timing myself. They each read their poems aloud softly and smiled, gushing “It’s perfect!” I’m rather proud to say that “it’s perfect” was the most common response to most of the poems I wrote during the next couple of hours.

I moved my workshop to follow the shifting sun, and my first two clients sent me another client with her three kids. One of them liked art and nature so I wrote her a poem called “THE NATURE OF ART” about how one inspires the other, and the youngest daughter told me about the two cats they had before they moved to Florida, resulting in a poem called “THE CATS WE LEFT BEHIND”. The mother read it to her kids and stopped to laugh and hide it from them when she got to the line, “maybe if we ask real nice we can get some others” and then finished with “they sure are nice to hold when the weather rains and thunders.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take pictures of the poems before I handed them off to their patrons, and I can’t remember all of the names, but I was glad to see that each of them truly appreciated what I’d done for them, and that I gave them something that they would treasure. And I’m pretty sure I got that little girl a kitty cat.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, my clients included one couple and five girls ranging from middle to high school. One of them approached with her friend and said, “I don’t have much money, but you can have what I’ve got”, dropping a few dollar bills and some spare change into my bucket as she sat on the ground to wait. She loved her poem, and her friend even teared up a little upon reading hers.

Altogether, I made over 50 bucks in about two hours, including a $15 Venmo payment. While I’ve never completely loved the act of busking for passersby with my guitar, I think I will much more enjoy playing songs while I’m waiting for my next poetry patron. I see myself attending a lot more festivals in the future.

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