Live Poetry on Demand on Tennyson Street in Denver

In the world of Kindles, iPads and screen-filled inventions I’ve lost track of, the tactile sensation of flipping through an old book brings me great pleasure. Cutting-edge technology makes me feel old beyond my years, whereas leafing through weathered pages makes me feel connected to things that matter. I was instantly drawn to Tennyson Street in Denver where a scribe and his typewriter pass the time crafting poetry for curious passersby.

Within the eight blocks of the Tennyson Street Cultural District, you’ll find three coffee shops, two renowned Italian restaurants, the ever-popular Mouthfuls pet store and Poetry Guy writes live poetry on demand from his typewriter. 

Only months ago, I was in Bangalow, New South Wales, on a break from the Byron Bay Writers Festival and wandering through the streets of one of Australia’s most curated towns. A white church gleamed in the late spring sunshine and tables of used books decorated the front lawn. The cover designs and formality of font suggested books of a different era, featuring archaic diction and dramatic storylines. I didn’t need any first editions, but I did want a small token of this lovely moment in another hemisphere.

Book cover from 1939, tennyson street in Denver

Richard Harding Davis’s frayed masterpiece, circa 1939

As the dog mom of Toula, my rescue Boxer, a wee tome called The Bar Sinister, by Richard Harding Davis, caught my eye. Its protagonist was a Bull Terrier and a glance at the inside jacket revealed “unquestionably one of the greatest dog stories ever published, and its charm and simplicity will capture the heart of every dog lover.” This particular edition had been set up, printed and bound in Australia in 1939. There were stains across the last few chapters, a tell-tale sign of a riveting read: the original handler was too engrossed to mind their wine or tea before turning the final pages.

I paid the 8 dollars Australian and placed the fraying pages of The Bar Sinister in my purse. It wasn’t until I was back in the States de-bulging my carry-on that I remembered the slim read still to be savored.

That trip marked the brink of some big changes in my life. I’d been staying at my friend Heather’s in Carbondale, Colorado, for the past few months, a slow transition from the mountains to the big city. Having wrapped up a complicated chapter near Aspen, I was en route to a new story, still to be written. I fit my entire life into a 10-foot U-Haul and a friend’s Toyota 4Runner and turned the page.

My friend Heather is also a dog mom to a shelter dog, a Bull Terrier named Rosie. Like my own pup, Rosie isn’t great with other dogs, and Heather, a seasoned dog owner, shares helpful tips on lunge management while walking a sensitive sidekick.

About a month after my move to Denver, Heather came for a weekend visit. The mid-November weather cooperated as we meandered down Tennyson Street, stopping for a pot of soup at Beau Thai and sitting outside to intercept canine passersby. I told her about The Bar Sinister–my vintage Australian novella—and its protagonist, a Bull Terrier who rose from street life to royal ‘show dog’ lineage.

“Sun’s finally out!” I called out to Poetry Guy, who was setting up shop a few storefronts down.

“Oh, poetry knows no weather,” the scribe with a typewriter replied.

With his beatnik cap, hand-rolled cigarettes and manual wordsmithing machine, Poetry Guy plunks his thoughts on the subject of your choice, tapping his old school typewriter for tips. The poetry business is good; typing mini-tomes in red ink has become his full-time job.

I had yet to commission a poem, but Heather was willing.

“Just name a topic,” said Poetry Guy, with a nod. “I’ll handle the rest.”

“Hmm,” replied Heather. She drummed her fingertips across her bottom lip, glanced over at me, and then smiled. “How about a…sinister Bull Terrier!”

woman waits for a typewritten poem, tennyson street in Denver

Waiting patiently for a personalized poem on Tennyson Street

Poetry Guy didn’t flinch, or ask for details. Plunk plunk plunk, plunk plunk plunk plunk—you could hear the meter hitting the page, the stanzas assembling themselves, the poetic devices flowing through his fingerless gloves. I was amazed at the unbroken rhythm of words unfolding. How did he write like that in the moment? What would be his take on an obscure dog breed turned menacing?

No more than three minutes had passed and Poetry Guy looked up from his keys. I thought he was going to delete something—always a production on a manual typewriter. I pictured the heavy carriage reversing its course to tap out an error, aided by a stroke of Wite-Out that inevitably blotches both ribbon and page.

There was none of that. No Grammarly, no formatting, no playing around with fonts. Poetry Guy slid his first and final draft from the machine and handed it to Heather.

Like the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson before him, Poetry Guy on Tennyson Street had conjured a dark and somber story. I read over Heather’s shoulder, absorbing the intricate plot line unfolding in red. The poem danced from line to line, completely devoid of rhyme: Poetry Guy knows literary poetry lacks that sing-song quality. He painted a picture of a potential Rosie, Heather’s not-so-sinister, just feisty, Bull Terrier through a dramatic portrait entitled, “The Meanness.” Its antihero was a hound hovering along the fringes of Hell.

“Wow,” I said. “That’s impressive. I’m a writer too, but it takes me some time to finesse things. You just cranked that out!”

Poetry Guy nodded, a trace of a smile. Like many legendary writers, his nom de plume featured initials as a first name: “D.M. Kingsford” read the jaunty signature.

Heather carefully placed a $20 bill in the tip jar and thanked him, then shook his hand. She was so pleased.

Later, I found an online version of The Bar Sinister. “Here it is!” I texted Heather, who was back in Carbondale. “So exciting. Must be a classic.” And though it matched my hard copy word for word, the online PDF of The Bar Sinister lacked that coveted old book smell.

“I shall wait for a whiff of your Australian tome,” Heather responded, as we planned for a Candlelight Concert at downtown’s historic Trinity United Methodist Church. “I promise to spill something good on its pages.”

Weathered book from 1939

International fodder for a poem on Tennyson Street