Earthworms’ Castings

with Jean Ponzi

The Dirt On Sidewalk Poetry

Henry’s open-air table in the Central West End was aflutter with paper – and passers-by. Fresh Poetry Ink, read his sign. An original poem on your topic in 10 minutes!
I stepped right up for my turn. Soil biodiversity, I proposed. It’s stuff I’ve really been digging into.

This self-styled corner bard paused for just the merest beat. He clasped his hands behind his head and gazed up at me. “Could you say a little about that, please?” Poet and customer had engaged in a process that Henry David Goldkamp believes can open hearts and minds to his great passion, poetry.

By day, Henry works construction as a tinner, a proud member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 36. You’d hope a poet would be an interesting guy. I can see him forming metal with the same keen attention he applies to turning a phrase, at home in the brotherhood of organized labor as much as he is at his quirky solo street performer’s folding table.

Henry’s been writing “from a very young age.” His Fresh Poetry gig has played St. Louis neighborhoods for three years. He figures he composes at least a thousand poems a year – on his fleet of 18 portable manual typewriters – and taps out actual carbon-paper copies of all of them. Low tech meets high concept in this young man’s joyful dance with the writer’s fate: “I don’t have a choice in the matter!”

He adapted this idea from another word-busker, who works in New Orleans. “He would turn your topic into a short piece of erotic fiction. That was popular, but to play in St. Louis, I knew I had to be more family-friendly.”

Do his verses ever rhyme? “Oh yes, “ he says, “about half the time – and anytime I compose for kids. But the poem decides. If it wants to, it rhymes.”

Beginning this August, Henry turns a new literary leaf: “I’m installing manual typewriters on pedestals in 25 venues around St. Louis. Each stand holds a sheaf of paper, with a drop slot, and a sign instructing people to write and deposit anything they want to say. I’m going to edit all of this into a book.” The project is entitled What the Hell is St. Louis Thinking? Look for it – and get your thoughts into it – at restaurants, nail salons, schools, churches and bars, from the U City Loop to Cherokee Street, City Museum to Bellefontaine Cemetery.

I asked him how he thinks his muse is coping in our YouTube, video-game, reality show social media culture. He said, “People associate poetry with ‘back in the day,’ like it’s antiquated, lost – like the typewriter. I can understand that, but poetry is amazing! An ordering of words, that lets me make connections with people! I know it works when the recipient and I both enjoy the poem, and the interaction. After getting their own poem written for them, maybe they’ll check out a book of poetry and discover . . . !”
Henry sure hit pay dirt connecting with me. Enjoy his ode to my topic!

On Soil Biodiversity
Earthworms cannot help
But tell the truth,
Albeit horrible gossip,
As the dirt being dished

Is only heard when you are the same
As them.
I do not claim to understand
Her quixotic soils,

Mother Earth perpetually pregnant
with billions of lives,
Only a man bound to be buried in it.
From earthworms, to skymonkeys,
to spacetigers,
We are essentially connected,

Imaginary or not,
Trying our damnedest to source
fantasy’s root,
Yet our feet are clinging onto so many’s roof.
I’ve no reason to believe

Any creature would put their cigarette out
in my carpet,
Piss on my ottoman,
Or spit on my books.
But every day, this is what we do.

I am a simple person.
Simple enough to turn an ear to the ground.
Earthworms cannot help
But tell the truth.

Hear a podcast of Jean’s conversation with poet Henry David Goldkamp on the Earthworms show page of www.kdhx.org/ondemand — and find “What the Hell is St. Louis Thinking” on Facebook.