“Poems While You Wait” is a group of Chicago poets who periodically set up shop with their typewriters at an event or location in the city. Passersby can pay $5 for an original poem, typed on the spot, which they come back and retrieve 15 or 20 minutes later.
“Poems While You Wait” was founded in the summer of 2011 when Dave Landsberger, who’d been involved in a similar group in Miami, Fl., moved to Chicago. He invited Chicago poet and friend Kathleen Rooney to join him, and they set up at their first event in Wicker Park with one typewriter (that Landsberger originally found in a dumpster in Miami, Rooney added, laughing). PWYW was such a hit that the group has remained active and now has a number of poets involved.
“One of the things we feel strongly about – the big reason we do ‘Poems While You Wait’ – is because it’s fun,” Rooney said. “It’s fun to go to a public place and have all these people who have maybe gone weeks of their life without even thinking about poetry suddenly be like, ‘Oh my god, I want a poem,’ to the point where we can’t keep up with the demand, which in poetry is like unheard of.”
Eric Plattner, a writing teacher at DePaul and a typewriter enthusiast, provides many of the typewriters used at PWYW events and is a self-taught repairman who fixes them when they stop working. One reason he enjoy being a part of PWYW is that people buying poems at events are more “enthusiastic and genuinely open” to the poetry. At traditional poetry readings and events, he said, people may applaud but don’t always seem excited about the work. There’s an immediacy to the poetry at PWYW: Plattner feels invigorated and looks forward to seeing how customers react to the poems.
“It’s kind of like teaching in the sense that whatever you do that day will be good,” Plattner said. “Whatever you do will be a positive, joyful contribution to the world.”