A Poem Store Open For Business, In The Open Air Zach Houston makes a living on the streets of San Francisco by composing poems on a manual typewriter. Give him a topic, and he'll pound out a poem in a matter of minutes — hopefully for a donation that will help him stay in business.

A Poem Store Open For Business, In The Open Air

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Now, in honor of National Poetry Month, we want to introduce you to a hardworking poet. We caught up with Zach Houston at a farmer's market in San Francisco, sitting on a wooden folding chair, banging away at a typewriter perched on his lap. A sign beside him reads: Poems: Your Topic, Your Price.


ZACH HOUSTON: I compose spontaneous poems on a manual typewriter - 1968 Hermes Rocket, straight out of Switzerland, man - and it's my purse full of language. I love it. Do you guys want a poem? What are the first three things you thought of?

ANN: I have to go home today.

HOUSTON: Where do you have to go home to?

ANN: Olympia, Washington. So...

HOUSTON: (unintelligible)

ANN: Spring vacation or spring break, road trip and Olympia.


ANN: My name is Ann. I'm from Olympia, Washington. I just bought a poem from Zach. It's a little, ripped piece of white paper. It too him, like, what, 60 seconds to pound it out on the typewriter. It's very cool.


HOUSTON: Where the Greek gods live with history and trees, protecting patience of rainforest where it doesn't rain, simmers, fog, moisture. Worship her, mother nature, newly wed, every year to visit a season is called spring forever returning to its origin - or source. To its source, or origin. Which one do you prefer?

ANN: To its origin.

HOUSTON: Good job, 'cause that's what I wrote. Did you read that, or did you...

ANN: No.

HOUSTON: No, good job.

ANN: Thank you.

HOUSTON: I usually make five, 10, 15, 20 a poem. I started doing this in 2005, quit my last conventional job on April Fool's Day, 2007. And they didn't believe me, because I said I was going to go write poems on the street with a typewriter for money. Believe it or not, it's not a totally reliable income. Who knew? So, you want a poem, too?

MILES: A poem about Legos.

HOUSTON: Legos are amazing. What a wonder, discrete units, man.


MILES: My name's Miles, and I'm from San Francisco. I was walking down the street today, and I really like typewriters. And I wanted to see someone write a typewriter, because I haven't seen anybody do that. And then I noticed you were writing poems, and I really wanted you to do one.

HOUSTON: Here's your poem: The Lego glow took a while, total monument to construction, corporate crossover to get products diversified across markets that miles are a measure of light in total darkness, a candle underground, an engine of systems inside of instructions deified and defied, simultaneously toy and vinyl sidings. There you, buddy. There's your poem.

MILES: Thank you so much.

HOUSTON: Enjoy yourself.

MILES: There you go.

HOUSTON: Thank you, good sir. Patron of the arts, man. You're a collector now. I've always loved poetry. I always care about how language works. My mom claims I carried a dictionary around when I was child, but my motivation was less bringing poetry to the world and more like I love writing poems. I bet I can make a few dollars and survive off of writing poems. But basically, it makes me want to go back to college and get in arguments with poets about how they're using words all wrong. What do you want a poem about?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Bubbles and clouds.

HOUSTON: Bubbles and clouds.

NEARY: That's poet Zach Houston at the Fairy Plaza Farmer's Market in San Francisco. Tell us about the poems you love. Have you memorized any poems? Go to our Facebook page and tell us which ones. There you can also find a link to a game testing your skill as matching NPR personalities to their favorite poems.

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