By Alicia Stemper/Vitamin O
Fittingly, Norman Douglas arrived in Carrboro the day before its West End Poetry Festival. He offers poetry on a pay-what-you-will basis, often setting up outside the Farmers Market. He composes on a manual Smith-Corona typewriter while music streams from his laptop via a Bluetooth speaker.
Douglas eschews the term “Pop-Up” Poetry. “That’s got a capitalist edge to it and I’m not really a capitalist…If I do refer to [this] in economic terms, I use the anti-economy term which is ‘Potlatch’ Poetry.” Potlatch refers to a ceremony practiced by indigenous people where giving the greater gift is prized.
Most people request a poem about love of some kind, “… whether its couple love or family love or friend love or pet love. For me, they are all love. If people say ‘trees,’ I write about how we love trees. Most poems are about the universality of love.”
When Vitamin O approached Douglas for this interview, he was writing a poem for Sasidharan Muniandy. “Sasi,” a visitor from Malaysia, requested a poem for his daughter. While Douglas worked, Sasi quietly tapped on his phone. When Douglas finished composing and prepared to read his creation aloud, Sasi surprised him by reading the following poem aloud:
Poem for the Poet
He sits in the sun.
Everybody loves the sunshine
As the cold breeze gathered round his nimble
Tap tap tap on the old typewriter.
Poems he masterfully writes
For the strangers that come as shadows by his
Does the inspiration flow
From the heart through unconditioned mind
A lonely man by the curb
Imagining the one I love
He sits there with a story
What it is, yet unread
Behind those shades hides glory
In his words, I turn sad to glad
Two fingers to a hundred words
Alphabets play and gather together
This man by the curb
Writing about my love, miles away
The poet by the curb
A poet of winter
Of poet of warm soul
Clearly surprised and touched by Sasi’s gift, Douglas then read his poem for Sasi’s daughter entitled “Celestial Gravity.” In part, it read:
…Would that they might know
a smattering of your agility,
your piercing giggles, your
eyes heralding a heaviness
that speaks of levity, your
tresses, black and shining
as if dotted by those same
stars that guide night travelers.
you are my legendary blood
as I strive, attentive, to learn our love.
Sasi declared the poem “amazing,” stunned that Douglas captured his daughter “without me telling you anything.” The men hugged. As Sasi walked away, he said, “Today is a perfect day.”