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Book Notes: Poets for Hire at Bookstock and ‘Poetry and Pie’

  • Benjamin Aleshire is an award-winning writer who travels the world as a poet for hire, composing poems for strangers in the streets on a manual typewriter. (Courtesy photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2017

If poet-for-hire Benjamin Aleshire wanted a tagline for his business, I would recommend something like, “Have Remington, will travel.”

Trouble is, the 30-something native of Vermont goes through his collection of portables of many brands faster than the Doctor Who series replaces Time Lords.

“On my current tour, I’m on my fourth,” Aleshire said on Wednesday, during a telephone interview from Burlington. “I had one stolen in Paris and I left one on the subway in New York.”

During the Bookstock literary festival this weekend on the green in Woodstock, he’ll be tapping out personalized poems on demand with a French model made by Japy.

“A strange, mustachioed guy presented it to me, when he heard I was a poet,” Aleshire said. “For the most part I don’t have to go looking for them. They find me.”

That’s pretty much the way serendipity has worked for Aleshire over the six years that he’s made a full-time job of setting up in streets and parks and offering his creative services. He spends about four months of the year at his home base in New Orleans, around two months in Burlington, and the rest touring Europe, the American Northeast and West Coast and Cuba.

“People give me the subject they want it to be about,” he said. “It could be a love poem or a eulogy, or it could be about war. I’ve had people ask for them in a variety of forms, including a formal metrical sonnet.”

In face-to-face transactions, he asks clients for around $20. When clients commission poems through his website, poetforhire.com for snail-mailing, he asks for payment of between $30 and $50 via PayPal.

This way of life wasn’t quite what Aleshire envisioned when he decided to make poetry his life’s work after his graduation from Mill River Union High School in Clarendon, Vt., in 2005. For his post-secondary education, he decided to travel around Latin America and write poetry, and managed to publish some early on.

Before long, in addition to writing for a variety of literary publications, he found work editing poetry for the Green Mountains Review. And after a stint typing commissioned poems at the Saturday farmers market in Burlington, he decided it was worth taking the show on the road.

“I’ll go anywhere, but mostly big cities, and population centers like downtown Burlington, make the most sense,” he said. “You need pretty solid street traffic.”

Aleshire generally doesn’t have to wait long for traffic to stop for his services in New Orleans.

“I get a little bit of everything,” he said. “I’ve had someone ask why they never committed suicide, ask for something about fascism, ask for poems that will save your marriage. I haven’t seen it all yet. I’m always being surprised.

“The human experience is pretty vast.”

Benjamin Aleshire starts writing personalized poems-on-demand on Saturday, at a desk among the Bookstock vendors on the village green in Woodstock. During Bookstock, he also is scheduled to join West Windsor poet April Ossmann for a poetry discussion on Friday afternoon at 2 at the North Universalist Chapel. Aleshire’s most recent collection isCurrency, an artist-book of visual poems.

More Poems on Demand

Comparison shoppers also can commission Chelsea resident Taylor Mardis Katz to type on-the-spot poems for them on Saturday, during the Poetry and Pie gathering that Literary North is hosting at Sweetland Farm in Norwich.

The doors to the Sweetland barn open at 1:30, and readings and discussions with New England-based poets James Crews, Dede Cummings and Mary Kane will begin at 2. The gathering will conclude with an open mic session of poetry, starting at 3. Admission is $6.

For more information about commissioning a poem by Taylor Mardis Katz, visit panacheperhaps.com/poet-for-hire/.

Kids’ Corner

Where is Sam? author Margaret Jill Dye leads a children’s workshop at the ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret on Saturday morning at 10. Admission is free to the event, part of the coming weekend’s Bookstock literary festival.

Nigerian goats named Spanky and Jelly Bean are scheduled to visit the Watch Them Grow story-time group on Tuesday morning at the Tenney Memorial Library in Newbury, Vt. Watch Them Grow is open to children who have not attended kindergarten. Admission is free. To check whether the weather will permit the visit, email Mary-Burnham@breadnet.middlebury.edu.

The Royalton Memorial Library’s “Build a Better World” summer-reading program for young people resumes on Wednesday morning at 10, with a visit from a representative of Vermont’s system of state parks. The gathering includes a nature walk and a session of crafts focused on the state’s natural beauty and animal life.

The series continues on Aug. 9 at 10 a.m., with Chris Alibozek of Bethel-based GW Plastics explaining the chemical properties of plastics and polymers.

For more information about these and other library programs, visit royaltonlibrary.org.

Wizard-read

The Norwich Public Library celebrates the 20th anniversary of the publication of the blockbuster Harry Potter series of novels tonight, with a party for adult fans of author J.K. Rowling’s sprawling world of the Hogwarts academy for young wizards. Party-goers are encouraged to dress as their favorite characters. Activities include a trivia contest, henna tattoos of Hogwarts and an Azkhaban photo booth. While admission is free, the library advises picking up tickets at the library during the day. To learn more, call 802-649-1184.

Looking Back

Friends of West Lebanon resident George Hano will read from his recently-published memoir, Get Ready ...Get Set, on Aug. 8 at 4 p.m. at the Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock. The book recounts Hano’s formative years in western Massachusetts and his experiences during the Korean War. Admission is free.

Talk Amongst Yourselves

The Norwich Public Library hosts a discussion of memoirs and “personal narratives that can help us build a better world” on Aug. 10 at noon. Themes include “Overcoming Personal and Family Challenges,” “Young People Changing the World” and “Facing Social Issues.” Books up for discussion include Roxane Gay’s Hunger and Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures. More recommended titles are listed at norwichlibrary.org.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.