The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter (Paperback)

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The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter By Brian Sonia-Wallace Cover Image

The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter (Paperback)


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Staff Reviews

Anybody who delights in collecting and using typewriters will adores this book, a love letter to typewriters, typists, and most especially to on-the-road typewriter poets who busk poetry for cash. I had no idea a culture of writers who travel to random places, turning stranger’s stories into off-the-cuff poems existed. Asking strangers “What do you need a poem about?” led Poet Brian Sonia-Wallace to “wow, really, you can do that?” gigs, i.e. a residency at the Mall of America; writing in the Poetry Brothel at Electric Forest in Rothbury, Michigan; winning an Amtrak contest in which he did what he does best while riding the rails; and composing poems at weddings, showers and parties. Brian’s memoir is full of delightful anecdotes and proof that he’s damned good at coming up with a good poem on the spot.

— From Vick's Picks (2019-2021)

It might surprise you who’s a fan of poetry — when it meets them where they are.

Before he became an award-winning writer and poet, Brian Sonia-Wallace set up a typewriter on the street with a sign that said “Poetry Store” and discovered something surprising: all over America, people want poems. An amateur busker at first, Brian asked countless strangers, “What do you need a poem about?” To his surprise, passersby opened up to share their deepest yearnings, loves, and heartbreaks. Hundreds of them. Then thousands. Around the nation, Brian’s poetry crusade drew countless converts from all walks of life.

In The Poetry of Strangers, Brian tells the story of his cross-country journey in a series of heartfelt and insightful essays. From Minnesota to Tennessee, California to North Dakota, Brian discovered that people aren’t so afraid of poetry when it’s telling their stories. In “dying” towns flourish vibrant artistic spirits and fascinating American characters who often pass under the radar, from the Mall of America’s mall walkers to retirees on Amtrak to self-proclaimed witches in Salem.

In a time of unprecedented loneliness and isolation, Brian’s journey shows how art can be a vital bridge to community in surprising places. Conventional wisdom says Americans don’t want to talk to each other, but according to this poet-for-hire, everyone is just dying to be heard.

Thought-provoking, moving, and eye-opening, The Poetry of Strangers is an unforgettable portrait of America told through the hidden longings of one person at a time, by one of our most important voices today. The fault lines and conflicts which divide us fall away when we remember to look, in every stranger, for poetry. 

Brian Sonia-Wallace has been described as a "creative genius" by the LA's Department of Cultural Affairs and "disappointingly normal" by the New York Times. He's written for the Guardian, Rolling Stone, and more. He has been the resident writer for Amtrak, the Dollar Shave Club, and Mall of America to name a few. His company, RENT Poet, was featured on NPR’s How I Built This.

Product Details ISBN: 9780062870223
ISBN-10: 006287022X
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: June 30th, 2020
Pages: 304
Language: English

In The Poetry of Strangers, Brian Sonia-Wallace jumps a train and goes “ridin’ the rail, ” listening, exchanging poems with the riders. Poems are no longer poems, they become a “private America,” they blur from moments of imprisonment to open lines of freedom, “corazón” listening, and cross-border investigations to visceral notes on being from a “bad country.”  Is this book about poetry, strangers, liberation or the “shrapnel interactions” of minds, bodies and lands flaming towards humanity? A text we have been dreaming of - the act of empowering invisibilized peoples, literature and human beings in danger. — Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States, Emeritus

“I adore what Brian Sonia-Wallace is doing, and his voice in writing about poetry in human lives is endearing, smart, captivating, humane, compassionate—everything I wish our country were, every day.”  — Naomi Shihab Nye, New York Magazine Poetry Editor and the Young People's Poet Laureate of the Poetry Foundation, Chicago

"Exploring America by road and rail, Brian Sonia-Wallace offers his presence to strangers, typing poems for them and, in turn, learning from them about sex, music, politics, religion, and magic. He peers past our consumerism and polarization to uncover the intimate desire of every one of us: to be heard, and to receive the gift of words." — Richard Polt, author of The Typewriter Revolution

"While poetic verse is the common denominator of each essay, the theme that ties it all together is how similar we all are at the core... An enlightening project that exposes how alike we are in our differences."  — Kirkus Reviews

“Earnest and soulful....Readers will be heartened and inspired by Sonia-Wallace’s artistic and spiritual coming of age.”  — Publishers Weekly