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A Room of One’s Own is what Virginia Woolf said every writer needs. Free from distractions like filling up the dog’s water bowl, an empty cup of tea, a ringing phone. What if you only had three minutes to write a poem and you had to do it regardless of hundreds of people milling about, kids spinning to music from a live band and cafe traffic walking by in clouds of coffee smells?

poets writing on demand

Anna writing her first poem on demand, which made our customer cry. Her word was "earring."

That’s what we (myself and other Triangle-area poets) did last night in downtown Raleigh. Inspired by Natalie Goldberg’s essay “Spontaneous Writing Booths” in Writing Down the Bones, we offered poems written in 3 minutes or less to anyone who provided us with $1 and one word. Who says poets are penniless writers? In three hours of writing on demand for such random prompts as “election,” “lemongrass,” “constipation,” “trajectory,” “earring” and more, we raised $30. Poets make more than minimum wage. All of the funds are used toward materials for poetrySPARK, the poetic component to downtown Raleigh’s volunteer-run annual SPARKcon creative festival in September. Last year poetrySPARK’s Poetry on Demand Booth raised $125.

By the end of the night poets went into overtime, penning poems past 9PM. “Wait a minute” turned into “wait 3 minutes” as one customer even put a poem on layaway–left a dollar and a word and went off shopping while we churned out spontaneous verse for a line of demanding customers. Maybe next time we’ll get one of those deli counter ticket things.

a poet's feast

Fueling up before writing on demand with a Benelux Cafe waffle. No starving artists here.

While you wait for a poem enjoy the live music and beer tent. (Or my personal favorite, one of the out-of-this-world waffles at Benelux.)

fire dancer in Raleigh

Downtown Raleigh's First Friday Events

First Fridays in Raleigh are always fun. The art galleries are open, local artisans sell crafty clothes, soaps and jewelry (I got another wooden piece from my favorite local jeweler dude–Jon Pitts, aka Woodcrafty), and people are literally on fire–and SPARKcon hasn’t even started! On Hargett Street in front of the Morning Times Cafe, beside all the artisan booths, there’s a drum circle and fire dancers. This is something I really want to try some day!

We’ll be hosting another Poetry on Demand Booth on First Friday in September right in front of Benelux Cafe in Raleigh’s City Market. A scene in one of my favorite films has captured this writerly act. In Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) come across a “version of Viennese bum” who pens a poem and asks them to compensate him with whatever they think the poem is worth. I’m including the clip here. In the words of the poet-bum, he hopes “it adds a little something to your life.”

I’ve found this process exhilarating. So many writers tell me they have to wait for a certain time of day, be in their writing space, have special music playing…well, while they wait for the stars to align, light a candle, look for a “special” pen and plot a lunar writing schedule, the world is missing out on their words.

Write anywhere, anytime. Clothes optional.