Poems Made To Order

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Chad Reynolds (center) writes made-to-order poems at a recent H & 8th event. Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Chad Reynolds (center) writes made-to-order poems at a recent H & 8th event. Photo by Brent Fuchs.

What’s on the menu today? Love and mercy? The promise of tomorrow? A sonnet with a side of iambic pentameter? Tennyson sauce or Whitman dressing? Not quite, but almost. It’s not Burger King, and you can’t always have it your way. And every poem cooked up by Short Order Poems is served well-done.

Short Order Poems sits at the corner of Hudson and Eighth Street during Oklahoma City’s popular H & 8th Night Markets. In the middle of the chaos created by 30,000 people, music, food, alcohol and stars, two poets – Chad Reynolds, 39, and Timothy Bradford, 45 – along with three or four guest poets, are creating food for the soul.

“It’s not like they’re bankers that think it’s fun to sit down and write poems. They’re poets. That’s what they are. This isn’t them trying to have a shtick. This is them looking for a great way to express, at the core, who they are. That’s why it works. It’s honest. It’s not about what sells. It’s them doing what they love. What they love is writing,” says H & 8th Market Night organizer Brian Bergman.

Waiters take orders – topics – and briskly deliver them to the waiting cooks. Patrons won’t hear the sizzling of a grill, but they will hear the clicking and clacking of the keys of a manual typewriter, perhaps a Hermes 3000 or an old Smith Corona. Nor will customers hear a bell signaling that their order is up, but if one of the poets is rolling, they’ll hear the ding of a manual typewriter that’s reached the end of a line.

Reynolds is the author of Buenos Aires, a chapbook of travel poetry. Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Reynolds is the author of Buenos Aires, a chapbook of travel poetry. Photo by Brent Fuchs.

Both native Oklahomans, Reynolds and Bradford are serious poets. Reynolds, an insurance broker by day, is the author of Buenos Aires, a collection of travel poems. He’s also published six chapbooks, completed two full-length manuscripts and been published in more than 30 journals and literary reviews, including Washington Square and Cutbank. His time with Short Order has given him more than 200 poems that he plans to revisit, more than enough for his third manuscript.

Bradford is the author of Nomads with Samsonite, a poetry collection published in 2011. His work has also appeared in several journals and literary reviews, including 42opus and Diagram. Bradford has served as the assistant editor of the Oklahoma State University literary magazine, Cimarron Review. With a Ph.D. in creative writing, he now teaches literature and composition as a visiting assistant professor at the university.

The poetic pair developed Short Order to feed Oklahoma City’s starving poetry community. It was an on-the-spot recipe hashed out in early 2014 at midtown Oklahoma City’s Elemental Coffee Roasters with its owner, Brian Bergman, also well-known as the organizer of H & 8th Night Market. He listened as the two tossed ideas back and forth for bringing poetry readings to Oklahoma City.

“It’s a constant struggle wherever you are, no matter how much money or pull you have, to get people to come out and listen to people reading poetry. We decided not to create that,” says Bradford. “We decided Oklahoma City’s not ready for that. Even if it was, that wasn’t what we wanted to do because it would just be the same thing we’ve seen everywhere else.”

As an aside, Reynolds mentioned something a friend of his, poet Kathleen Rooney, experimented with in Chicago. Rooney created Poems While You Wait, a public setting where writers craft poetry on the spot using manual typewriters and topics randomly taken from the crowd.

They had to stop taking orders early in the evening because they had more than they could do. That’s spectacular. It definitely surprised me.

“As Chad described Poems While You Wait, Brian’s listening, and you could just see that he was getting excited. He said, ‘That – that’s the idea.’ This was what pushed us to do it. Brian said, ‘If you guys can put this together, I’ll give you a table right there on the corner of H & 8th. He was willing to feature us at the heart of this festival. At that point, we couldn’t back down unless we were really wimps. What’s the worst that could happen? We go, we suck, nobody buys anything and we shut it down,” says Bradford.

Bergman, who also owns a branding company, Whiteboard Labs, is known around town as an idea guy. The enthusiasm he displayed masked a bit of hesitancy.

“I knew they were charging for the poems,” he says. “I wasn’t sure how people would react to it. This could be a runaway hit. Or it could be a slow slog up a trail. You never know. The first time they did it, they had a waiting list. They had to stop taking orders early in the evening because they had more than they could do. That’s spectacular. It definitely surprised me.”

The popularity they garnered quickly forced them to put basic economics into action. When demand exceeds supply, the price goes up. Every meal served by Short Order now costs $10.

“It started out at five bucks, and the demand was too high. We couldn’t meet it. A couple of times last year, we had to leave and fill orders at home, which was not fun. The last thing you want to do after spending five hours writing poems is to go home and write 10 more. So this was a very simple example of supply and demand. This was economics playing itself out in a field that is so non-commercial. It’s great. It’s lowered demand a little bit and allowed us to right-size ourselves,” says Reynolds.

Short Order Poems appears regularly at the H & 8th Market Night on the last Friday of every month, March through October. Now in its second year, Short Order’s popularity isn’t waning. The duo has performed at other events and venues and will appear in Tulsa in December, time and location to be announced.

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