Committee Member Jeffrey Pearson on Being a Poet

Every so often we unlock the closet we keep our poets in. Recently when MWW committee member Jeffrey Pearson got out, he spoke at The David Owsley Museum of Art at Ball State University.

It was  PechaKucha Night. PechaKucha, or “chit-chat” in Japanese, is a unique, fast-paced, and fun presentation format: 20 slides for 20 seconds each. October’s theme was “Being.”

Jeff presented on being a poet in the city. That’s the thing we love about our poets (including MWW committee member Michael Brockley): they don’t wait for people to come to poetry, they take poetry to the people. 

Below, Jeff was kind enough to share his presentation on being a poet. 


The City has given life and voice to poets like William Carlos Williams, CP Cavafy, Jack Gilbert, Frank O’Hara. In return, I think a poet gives the same back to the city. Their words, written and spoken, can help define it, its people, its reason for being.

The Owsley Museum is a wonderful place for poets. Last month they invited Mike Brockley and me to write poems on demand for you patrons and you kept us busy.

In 2009, they brought in then Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf and pianist Monika Herzig for a delightful Sunday afternoon of poetry and jazz.

During the Asian Miniatures exhibit, about 40 people joined us in writing a ghazal, an ancient poetic form. Some were boyfriends dragged in by their art student girlfriends, but mostly, they were all good sports. We split into five groups and each group wrote a couplet, ending in the word water. It turned out pretty good.

Here is a 1991 handbill for the second annual Humpback Barn Festival, which was held in Mildred Trivers barn and paired poets with artists. It went on for 17 years, ending its run at Minnetrista Cultural Center.

Mildred told us, “Slow down” when we got up to read, and “Poets are dangerous people.”

Mike Brockley and I serve on  the Midwest Writers Workshop committee. The workshop meets in July and next year will be our 43rd. Mostly, they don’t know what to do with their poets, so they lock us in closets. Only letting us out to do some events around town.

Vera Mae’s has been a great partner for National Poetry Month. We’ve had readings by several Indiana poets including two Poet Laureates.

There’s been poetry and jazz at Doc’s Music Hall.

Gallery 308 invited us to collaborate with Sally Myers and with Carol Blakney and Mary Ann Rhea.

And the the Open Door Clinic has three of my poems on the exterior of their building.

We have written Poems on Demand at the big ArtsWalks in the spring and fall downtown. We started about a decade ago.

In October, 2013, Mike and I wrote 42 poems.

This month was a challenge with the wind, and we eventually had to take down the canopy. Thankfully, I was writing a poem for Architecture students who were good building things with their hands, and they had the tent down in no time. Only one girl named Dot was blown away by the wind.

Here is Mike with his “grokking” hat on. You know, that word is in the dictionary. Actually I think that might be my hat. So that’s where it went. And here are some of our clientele. Looking for a party idea? Wedding? Consider Poets for Hire.

Tools of the trade for Poems While You Wait: Manual typewriters, paper, and a table to sit at.

Writing a poem for someone else, up close and personal, can be daunting and surreal. You have to suspend your own windows of perception to get yourself out of your box.

A woman this year asked me, “How do we do this?” I really don’t know, it’s different each time. I keep asking questions, digging deeper. Really it’s not as bad as a minute with Lucy. A little closer to divination. In that empathic moment, something beautiful happens

It’s as if I’m hanging there in mid air, grasping for anything. Then you say something that’s gold.

“He’s a good man to have around.”

“A secret life of serial parking violations.”

“The Cute One and the Chattanooga Red Hot.”

“He held me grand.” (This one is thanks to James Still.)

These are the hooks into the poems.

It’s all about going through a portal and into someone else’s head. Like in this movie. You’re on that half-floor you never knew existed. You can do it. No kidding. Suddenly you’re seeing through their eyes. Lean back, flex your fingers and begin to type.

Here’s Mike working again. Notice, we can’t see if the table is firmly on the ground or not. After writing—we read the poem aloud. People don’t expect this, to hear the words being read by the author. It’s a captivating surprise—the vision, the words and the voice.

Maybe you know this scene with the street poet who writes a verse for Celine and Jesse. Pity the poor sceptic who assumes the poems are recycled, with only a few words changed. Oh, where is your joy, man. Have a little faith. We are artistes!

Don’t take my word for it. Here are some happy customers who can attest to the veracity and spontaneity of our work. There are folks you simply cannot fool. One testimonial states, “Arf, Arf, Arf, Arf.” Translated. “Poets are great at parties, too.”

Here’s a list of the poets who helped out at the Living Lightly Fair last month. It was a dark and stormy morning, and thunderstorms drove us us inside before the Fair had a chance to begin. But the sun broke through, and each poet had their own strategy of delving out a poem.

And again, its nice to have the poem read out loud.

Interurban, my writing group in Indy, helped out at the Broad Ripple Art Fair in June.

Here is another strategy:

Observe your surroundings.

Listen to what is said next to you.

Lydia is asking Liza Hyatt’s daughter three questions. That went into my poem for Ashley who worked with the flower art booth. Man, I’m a sponge in the worst way.

Legend has it a woman saw Picasso working in the park

“It’s you. You must sketch my portrait!”

He agreed. Studied a moment, and used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait.

“It’s perfect! You captured my essence with one stroke. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”

“Five thousand dollars.”

“But. It only took you a second to draw it!” How could you want so much money for this picture?

“Madame,’ he said. “It took me my entire life.”

So how much is enough? People have told us a dollar isn’t. Twenty isn’t either, but how many will stop by for that price?

But then…sometimes…we are paid in immeasurable ways. Like Katy, who got back a piece of art.

Or the best gift of all…

Alice’s reaction. Those moments filled with revelations and smiles are amazing. Heartbeats sync when you say,

“Oh I was just thinking of my grandmother.”

Or “Cherries are my son’s favorite.”

Or “I love honeysuckle.”

But these words were never mentioned at all before I wrote it. That’s the Muse. It truly is a magic way to be.

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