Impromptu poetry morphs into BESPOKE POETRY– JC Sulzenko writes poems on commission

“I just can’t resist the challenge: writing to a subject not of my choosing, suggested by someone whom I didn’t know beforehand, for the most part, to mark a birthday, an anniversary, a special event or person, or in memoriam,” JC admits. “I’ve now launched “BESPOKE POETRY” to give me the chance to create new poems this way.”

JC began her love affair with poetry written on demand many summers ago at what was then known as “Art in the park,” a showcase for artists, crafts people and assorted others in her neighbourhood.

Wearing a lot of sunscreen and with paper pad and pen, she set up a table and offered to write poems for visitors at $2.50 each, the proceeds of which went to a charitable organization. She cannot remember to which one the modest take went that first year.

She attached certain caveats to the process: payment upfront; she held the copyright to the poem; no one could dispute what she had written; she reserved the right to refuse to write on a subject with which she was not comfortable.

Those who dared to test her skills were interviewed briefly about the subject they had chosen, then sent away to wander among the artisans. When they returned, they picked up the poem in a neat scroll. More often than not, they unravelled the poem and read it on the spot. And commented. Almost all very pleased with the result.

Though not a big fundraiser, JC found the experience exhilarating. “I used a number of the poems written at that festival in “Fat poems Tall poems Long poems Small,” my ekphrastic book of poems for families and children to which Ottawa artists contributed interpretative illustrations.” Several other poems found their way into chapbooks.

For a couple of years, JC returned to the venue, adding a tent and two chairs to facilitate the interviews and for the sake of privacy. Each year, the price tag went up by a bit. The final year of her participation, the funds raised were donated to a local hospital.

Then she stopped, overtaken by other writing projects including “Boot Crazy” and later by “What My Grandma Means to Say,” her book and play about Alzheimer’s disease.

Now she has taken up poetry on commission again with enthusiasm. The process begins with agreement on a base price for the poem, which can take the form of free verse or rhyme. The ‘buyer’ pays JC upfront. Then, there’s an interview which can take as little as 10 minutes over the phone or up to an hour face-to-face, where that’s convenient to the parties.

JC considers carefully what she has learned about the subject and writes the poem within the timeframe agreed to in the discussions. The length of the poem can vary depending the subject matter. Once she’s satisfied, she shares the poem and asks for comments as to accuracy only. If there are any factual inaccuracies, she corrects them and then provides a final text.

She asks that the poem not be published without her prior permission and then only with clear acknowledgment as to her authorship.

“I have written about a granddaughter’s graduation from high school on her birthday, the death of a child, a dog who dreams. It’s such an adventure, never knowing where a new poem will begin or to where it will take me.”

 

 

 

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