#720: Street Poets

December 2nd, 2016

They stand on corners, sheets in hand. Folded chapbooks or maybe CDs with some ponderously poetic name scribbled on the disk in Sharpie.

They move and hustle. Some smile and gladhand. Some make eye contact and try to lure you in with that economic lubricant of guilt.

Some of the passersby think they’re bums, I guess, or see the sheets in hand and think the sidewalk hustlers have been paid to spread coupons for mattress stores or the happy hour menus for new-opened bars.

But they haven’t. These sidewalk hustlers spread their words.

The poet on State Street was huddled in a painted-over doorway in one of the lesser-fancy stores. Six feet and change, dreads kept tight and sharp, a sleek leather jacket. His smooth had been roughed by a few hours on the beat, it appeared.

Whatever energy and glide he had early on was muted to a rote call to the crowd with eyes unfocused dead ahead, no more pumped than a longtime beggar mumbling “Spare a dollar?”

You buy from street poets. You just do.

“What do you got?”

“I’m handing out these sheets of my poetry,” he said, handing me a Xeroxed sheet with a sketch of a woman in chains and a poem about lost love.

“And I’m selling these books for $5,” he said, pulling out a chapbook with a frantic drawing of a frantic man on the cover.

“Chapbook” as I mean it is when a street publisher takes a bunch of 8 ½ by 11 sheets of printer paper, folds them widthwise, staples down the middle and makes a little book out of it. The first fiction I was ever paid for was printed in a chapbook. I’ve made chapbooks of the stories on this site.

On the frantic cover, a large African head stood on a stickman body. Bloodshot eyes and fear in the face, he watched helpless as two stick demons wired TNT plungers into his ears.

It’s actually quite lovely. Art’s hard to talk about.

I dug in my wallet, pulled out the $3 I had. I said I didn’t have enough. He looked at me and, with a gesture, told me to take the book.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks. Good luck out there.”

I turned away after I said that so he wouldn’t see me wince. That’s what I say to beggars. It’s not what I should have said to an artist.

Read about a woman who hustles poetry for love

A man hypes spiritual hip-hop in a parking lot

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You are currently reading #720: Street Poets by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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