The Poet Among Us

There’s a funny person from around these parts named Zach Houston. I guess all poets are funny in a way, aren’t they? Yes, Houston is a poet. A real, working poet. And he is a jewel.

You may have seen him on the CBS News, or heard him recently on NPR.

He totes around a manual typewriter. (When was the last time you saw someone use one of those?) He sits somewhere with a fair amount of foot traffic. He sets up one of his signs, and he sits.

For a donation, he will write an original poem. Write it on the spot, banging it out clack-clackity-clack on his typewriter. And he will pull it off the roller, sign it and hand it over.

Remarkably, Houston is not just some ape with a gimmick. He is a talented and thoughtful poet. His words have sound and rhythm. His poems, at least the ones I’ve read and heard, are intriguing. They play on ideas in original ways.

Houston, in short, is as brilliant as he is ballsy.

I saw him the other day at San Francisco’s Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. He wrote something for my daughter and her school pals. I watched him as he chit-chatted with these pretty girls, joking, flirting more than a little. But he was writing all the while. And when I read it, I was more than a little surprised at the high quality of the finished piece.

It’s not every poet who would have the nerve to compete for attention at a place like this, where people come for farm-fresh produce and gourmet food. But probably not every poet feels up to that kind of challenge. Houston, however, is obviously more than equal to the task.

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