Support your local poet – buy a poem – April 14, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sharon Letts

Eye Correspondent

ARCATA – Jacqueline Suskin can be found on the Arcata Plaza during Farmers’ Market, or tucked away in some business’ doorway during Arts! Arcata. However, she does not sell produce or play a fiddle.

Suskin is a poet. She sits on a folding chair, her 1950s Royal typewriter perched upon her lap with a sign taped to the typewriter’s case, “Poetry Store, Your Subject & Price.” Her bicycle can be found nearby, a plastic crate strapped behind the seat to hold her only piece of business machinery, the typewriter. For she is in business, the business of poetry.

A young man and potential customer, Zephyr Johnston of Arcata stops and smiles. No wonder, 25-year-old Suskin is intriguing. Johnston asks how it works.

Suskin explains as the sign indicates, “You choose the subject and price, and I’ll write a poem.”

We arrive at perfection

(and think of light)

and if we whisper the long lasting

we know it doesn’t have to end.

– Jacqueline Suskin, Poem Store

He hands her a $5 bill and tells her the subject matter, she begins to type. In moments she hands Johnston a typed poem on a small piece of paper. He seems pleased and lingers to chat.

How she can write so quickly of any subject matter sprung upon her remains a mystery. The magic happens, she believes, because she connects with her clients on a personal level.

Jacqueline Suskin at the Farmers' Market. Photo by Sharon Letts

“I tend to use the pronoun ‘we’ a lot and relate my experience directly to all of us, because when someone comes up to me with a subject I want them to know that I see them, that I relate to their life, that we are all going through this together,” she said. “I also try and generate positivity and hope. I am really inspired by people who have created their own mythology, a way to interact with the world that is sacred and that honors the complexity and beauty of all things.”

Suskin said she’s more of a performer than poet, and Poem Store more performance art than anything else.

Suskin said she began writing at a very young age.

“I wrote a poem about a fox and read it to my dad thinking it was just wonderful,” she said. “I’ve always been writing. I have journals of cryptic mystical language from the days before I knew definable words.”

Born in Michigan, Suskin moved to the Florida Keys when she was eight years old. After earning a degree in English with an emphasis in poetry, Suskin said she began to travel, following a friend to Humboldt.

“How could I say no to a place with the redwoods, the Pacific Ocean and a best friend?” she said.

Her inspiration comes from the likes of Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, Hermann Hesse and Walt Whitman, but inspiration for the Poem Store came from Oakland based Poem Store operator Zachary Houston, Suskin met last summer.

“He told me about his profession and I went to work with him the next day,” she said. “Ever since then I’ve been devoted to the craft of Poem Store, have never experienced a better writing exercise, and I’m  completely inspired every time I head to work.”

Suskin’s first book of poetry titled, The Collected, comes out May 7 through Publication Studio out of Portland and will be available then on its website for $20.

The book is a series of found photographs with accompanying poems that speak for or with the subjects in the photographs. The book release will take place at Together Gallery in Portland, Oregon on Friday, May 7 from 6 to 10 p.m.

“I’ve been working on this book for a few years now,” she said. “After all of my traveling I’ve finally finished it and am really looking forward to sharing it with the community.  The poems are more refined than what I write for Poem Store.”

April is National Poetry Month. Visit  for more information from The Academy of American Poets.

Visit Jacqueline Suskin at

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