‘Poetry can be all around you': Kathryn Hunt recounts sharing random acts of poetry

Photo Credit: Brian Pirie

Kathryn Hunt  is a displaced Maritimer who first arrived in Ottawa 15 years ago. A published poet and freelance writer, Kate blogs, performs and talks the city’s budding literary scene at every opportunity! She also enjoys cycling and rock-climbing in her spare time.

A volunteer at the Arc Poetry table during ArtsPark

Last weekend I spent a day helping to man the Arc Poetry Magazine table at ArtsPark in the Parkdale Market in Hintonburg. ArtsPark has been running since 2004, helping to boost and celebrate the burgeoning arts district that Hintonburg has become, but this is the first time I’ve been able to go. (I used to live in Hintonburg, but it was a rather sketchier part of the city back then…)

When I arrived at the Parkdale Market it was a misty day — not quite raining. But that didn’t seem to have affected the crowds, who were already milling around the stands, sipping local coffee and munching local snacks. I locked my bike up to one of the (many) bike racks, and headed in to the collection of tables, stands and canopies in search of the Arc table. I found it just inside the park, under one of the permanent canopies, next to the ArtsPark information table. It was already staffed by a cluster of poets, some of whom had been wandering around the park performing ‘random acts of poetry’: stopping passersby and offering to read them a poem from a collection of chapbooks and small press publications.

Photo Credit: Brian Pirie

We had a ‘poetry factory’ set up: two metal boards covered in magnetic words, so that anyone passing could spend a few moments moving words around and creating a poem. Anyone who created a poem would get a chance to draw for a prize – a free copy of Arc, or even a year’s subscription. There was also a typewriter , which drew a lot of attention, where volunteer poets would, for a dollar or two, compose a poem on the spot for passersby.

It’s kind of amazing that there are some people who, when you ask them, “Hey, would you like a poem?” look at you in suspicion, mumble something like, “No thanks,” and sidle away as though you just offered them –- oh, I don’t know, a political tract or a credit card application. But it’s also amazing that there are people who when you offer them a poem written, on the spot, just for them, light up. “Really? You’ll write me a poem?”

Kids stop by the Arc Poetry table

People asked for poems for their children — often poems for infants in arms who won’t be able to read the poems for years. (By which time these poems will probably all be recycling: One of the interesting thing about the whole poetry factory idea, for me, is that all the poems are ephemeral. They’re not high art, they’re not going to last forever. This was a celebration of the fact that poetry can be all around you, and it can be just for fun, and it can be not meant to last.) They also wanted poems for occasions – there were at least two birthday poems composed, that I saw.

Mayor Jim Watson stops by the Arc Poetry table

The Mayor came by the table, wrote his own magnetic poem,  tossed his toonie into the jar and asked Pearl Pirie, who was manning the typewriter just then, to write a poem about Hintonburg. Others reached into the jar for a random subject (words and phrases cut out of magazines). A young man in a Yasir Naqvi jacket asked for a poem about public service. And inevitably, when they were handed their typewritten sheet with their typo-laden, brand-new poem on it, their faces burst into grins.

Meanwhile, around us there were  kids playing in the still-empty wading pool and on the large orange spheres that are scattered around the new Parkdale Market park, stands selling local crafts and foods, and a stage with alternating musical and spoken word performers. (We were a little too far away to catch every word of the sets by PrufRock, Ian Keteku and John Akpata, but phrases drifted over to us from the stage from time to time.) A unicyclist appeared, juggled for a few moments, attracting a crowd of young children who would run to grab the pins when he dropped them. After a while I spotted him unicycling around the park with a cluster of small children running after him in a stream like the tail of a comet.

Photo Credit: Brian Pirie

We packed up around 5 pm, along with the rest of the fair, and went our separate ways from the Arc table. I didn’t get out to see much of the rest of the festival (although I made a couple of trips to a nearby vendor’s table, where they were serving coffee that tasted, slightly, of cinnamon). But from where I was standing, behind the poetry table, it was a success. The sun even came out for the last hour or so. And I got to spend a day making poetry fun for people. Reminding them that poetry doesn’t have to be deathless, it doesn’t have to be scary or complicated or hard to understand, it isn’t made in isolation or in some strange artistic trance: Poetry can happen anywhere.

Wow! Thanks for sharing! And Kathryn will be performing with her poetry/storytelling troupe, the Kymeras, this Saturday at 8 p.m. in nearby Almonte, at the Old Town Hall.