© 2009 Stefan Gruenwedel

Poetry While-U-Wait

I’m not a fan of poetry. Maybe it’s because modern poetry often eschews the meter and form that “classic” poetry adhered to. Such poetry often reads like prose,
just broken
up with random line
breaks for effect.

At least that’s often been my take on it.

I can appreciate how difficult it is to write anything under pressure, whether it’s a newspaper column, movie review, or novel. I have to admit I’m impressed by Allan Andre’s ability to tune out the distractions of the city around him as he sits at his manual typewriter and bangs out several stanzas of interesting text in a matter of minutes while you wait for him to complete his work.

Allan Andre at his poetry machine on Castro Street

Allan Andre at his poetry machine on Castro Street

The weird thing about this guy is that I already knew about him when I spied his typewriter stand on Castro Street @ Market in San Francisco today after emerging from the bowels of Muni. Somewhere (Leah Garchik or Jon Carroll in the San Francisco Chronicle, or maybe while listening to some local program on KALW?) I’d read or heard about this guy who takes your suggestions, types out a poem while you watch, and then ask you to pay what you think it’s worth. (His hand-lettered “Poetry While-U-Wait” sign in block letters gives himself instant, lemonade-stand-quality street cred.) A Google search on his name brings up precious little previous mention of him by official media outlets. (A few blogs, do: bettinaforget saw him in Montreal; singlewhatfemale and waxpartnership came across him in New York.)

At any rate, I knew what he was all about when I saw his wobbly, nondescript TV-dinner stand. Allan was finishing a piece for someone, who seemed happy with the results. When he asked me to talk about something that interested me, I naturally couldn’t think of anything coherent or interesting. I rambled on about loving San Francisco and its history, walking around town and seeing vestiges of the past here and there (old signs and such), and feeling sad when part of that past becomes lost to urban development (the Western Addition comes to mind).

He handed me my sheet and kept a carbon copy for himself. The words were nearly perfectly formed—no typos and no start-overs—yet conveyed plenty of character: uneven ink, filled-in n’s, o’s, and e’s—even a hole where an o had struck the paper. This page was unique, not a laser-printed digital copy. The date at the bottom: “6.3.09”. A stranger finding this page in 50 years might think that year was 1909. (Except for the “CA” instead of “Calif.”, but that’s a gripe from a perfectionist.)

I didn’t think I sounded melancholic when I rattled off my stream-of-conscious topic—and I’m not totally certain what his poem is supposed to convey—but I am amazed that he could string his words together while I photographed him (he consented) and others stopped in their tracks to see what this dude was all about. His poem was certainly worth the $10 that I offered him.

In the end, I think Allan gave me something he thought I was looking for: a poem that elicits a mindset of a man who experienced a past I never lived but wish I had.

Poem by Allan Andre

Poem by Allan Andre

One Comment

  1. Posted August 25, 2009 at 9:45 PM | #

    Man, Allan went all the way to San francisco, amazing 😀

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