Poem Store: Words for your thoughts

by KEENAN KETZNER

Nothing quite beats the feeling of making a piece of art for strangers and seeing their joyful reactions. For a duo of Bellingham writers, Savanah Jordan and Erica Reed, they have made a habit out of doing this every week. The two show up to the Bellingham Farmers Market on Saturdays, find a nice corner to set up their typewriters, and go to work dishing out poems for passers-by.

It all started when Savanah had heard about the artist,  Jaqueline Suskin, who writes poems for strangers at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. Customers name their own subject and price, and Jaqueline scrawls short, but incredibly thoughtful poems for them on her typewriter. Storytelling has always been a big part of Savanah’s  life, and during her time as an undergrad she found poetry to be a blossoming hobby. She so was inspired from the article, that she had to try it out herself. Nervously, she decided to head out to the Farmers Market and do exactly that.

Savanah recalls what got her hooked on the Poem Store from the first day. “I remember falling immediately in love with the candor and ease with which strangers told me their stories and made their requests. It is still to this day an unparalleled privilege to be able to achieve such intimacy, so briefly, with strangers, and to provide them with such a simple yet resonant retelling of their own wonderings and truths.”

Erica joined the Poem Store next week: “She dragged me down there and we shared that first typewriter (Penney) between the two of us and wrote maybe three poems. The next Saturday we both had typewriters (mine was named Remington) and we were off.”

Erica is a fresher writer than Savanah, but still feels a deep passion for the art, also citing the human connection element as something that keeps her attached to the project. “There have often been tears at the Poem Store, both from us and from people we write poems for.”

“We’ve been asked to write poems about colors, political agendas, self-identity, personal obstacles, seasons, dogs, bicycles, weddings, alien sex, break ups, siblings, anniversaries, potatoes, quitting, doubt, graduation, parenting, job woes, death, loss, flowers and poetry, God, and so many different types of love,” Erica said. “Often people are moved by their poems in small ways, and they leave with a cool token of their day. Sometimes people are completely nonplussed. And sometimes, and these are the ones we wait for, people are moved to tears by the poems we write for them.”

For the future of the Poem Store, Erica tells of a cross-country road trip, traveling to the cities where she has made writing connections and doing the project there. She is also in the process of starting a Bellingham Poetry Gallery to create a stronger dialog between the many poetry organizations in town.

At the core, the Poem Store is a simple idea: just two artists sharing their joy with others. But on a bigger scale, the Poem Store is another beautiful example of the homegrown style of art Bellingham is known for. Where the connection between artist and audience is so close, that the audience becomes part of the work. If you’d like to be involved with the Poem Store, you can catch Erica and Savanah every Saturday on Railroad Avenue near the Farmers Market from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Published in the July 2015 issue of What’s Up!