During the second day of Boston College’s 24th Annual Arts Festival, a group of poets settled themselves at a large table on Stokes Lawn. The words “Free Poems” appeared on a poster, and, as faculty and students walked past, the poets asked each passerby if they would like a free poem.
The poets running the “Poetry On Demand” event on Friday consisted of students from the Experiments in Narrative course taught by Allison Adair, an associate professor in the English department. The booth encouraged the students to use their creative writing skills to craft a personal poem upon request.
To receive the free poem, visitors gave the poets an idea or theme. To make the brainstorming easier, a printed list on the table encouraged visitors to “think of something that fascinates, interests, or confounds” them, or to share a story they love, one that haunts them, or one they wish were true.
The poets could ask follow-up questions to better understand the requests and develop the unique verses. Soon after they fed the poet information for inspiration, the poems were ready, corroborating the group’s promise of “on-demand” service. The poets sent the on-the-spot poems to the visitors’ email addresses after five to 10 minutes.
Adair sat in front of a typewriter, writing and giving out physical copies of the poems, while her students emailed their work to those who requested a poem.
Between classes on campus, students engaged in the other arts activities surrounding the table of poets. Occasionally, someone approached the table of poets with a personal request. The ideas that passersby gave to the Experiments in Narrative students were eccentric and creative in nature.
An international student gave Adair the challenge to write about moving across countries and leaving everything behind, she said. She wanted to capture the student’s gloom while also displaying the student’s hope for the future.
Another student walked up with a unique idea and offered the poets the word “violin.”
“I used to play the violin when I was younger, and now that I don’t, I long for the sensation that playing the violin used to give me,” he said.
The poets not only produced beautiful poems, but they created a space of vulnerability and connection. As people opened up about subjects that matter to them, the poets listened attentively and asked questions, creating fruitful conversations.
The event came to a close at 1 p.m., at which time the poets had written about 100 poems, according to Adair.
This event made it possible for everyone to get involved in the art of poetry even without previous experience. The poets showed their creativity, while the visitors guided them with their unique ideas. Poets got to exercise their ability to make on-the-spot poems, and in turn, visitors left the booth with a touching piece of writing made just for them.