A few weeks ago, for a post about National Poetry Month, we used a photo of a young woman intently punching the keys on a typewriter ensconced in a briefcase labeled “Poem Store.”
Through the power of the Internet, we subsequently learned that the “poem store” proprietor in the photo is named Jacqueline Suskin and that she occasionally brings her vocation into schools.
Suskin is what’s known as a poetry street performer. Her Twitter bio states: “typing poems on a manual typewriter, your subject, your price.” She travels with a typewriter and sets up her Poem Store at festivals, weddings, and now schools. She has taught workshops at La Salle High School, in Pasadena, Calif., and Academy of the Redwoods High School in Eureka, Calif.
Her manager, Michael Shifflet, sent us a video of Suskin teaching poetry in classrooms:
In an email interview, Suskin told us that she tries to dispel the sometimes-forbidding atmosphere that surrounds poetry.
“By bringing poetry to the classroom I hope to demystify it a bit,” Suskin said. “Make it more accessible and show students that it isn’t so cryptic or difficult to understand. We are often taught that poetry is this complicated craft that one needs to pick apart and spend hours trying to translate. I like to show students that whatever it is that they get from a poem, whatever feeling or vision that comes to them, is correct.”
When visiting classes, Suskin tells students they are surrounded by poetry in their daily lives and can relate to it. Text messages and advertising, for example, are steeped in verse, she says. In 2009, The Guardian reported on poetry found in advertising, like shortened phrases, a musical rhythm, and alliteration.
She also tries to convey that poetry is an important part of our humanity.
“Learning that poetry is a potent part of our world is inspiring and also simply a true piece of the human experience,” she says. “There were times in history when poems said what the whole nation was thinking, and with a more direct and beautiful tone. Without learning about poetry, students miss the understanding that within the literary world there are some writers who master this craft of saying something in a succinct way that captures the sentiment of the moment better than anything else.”
Suskin also wants students to explore what it means to be a professional poet.
“They get the chance to speak with someone who is a true current working poet, which is rare and astounding for them,” she says. “I also like to instill in them that they can do whatever they want with their lives, create their own path, follow their passion, and with some imagination, develop a career out of what they love.”
Educators can contact Suskin, book the Poem Store for an event or workshop, or buy a poem on any subject at www.yoursubjectyourprice.com/contact.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.