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Poetry to Order, in the time it takes to boil an egg

You know you’ve hit on something when the responses are so varied. “God, you’re so brave! I’d be terrified!” “What a brilliant idea, how lovely!” Experience has shown that it’s when I’m able to step back from my desire to impress and please everyone that something far more alive and authentic comes through. Trying to make a cup of tea with the intention of satisfying everyone would make for, at best, something exceedingly boring and mediocre; at worst, an entirely undrinkable cuppa.

It wasn’t a new idea. I’d read about the Poetry Takeaway in a magazine several years previously, and later tried it out to moving effect in a writing workshop I led. We were all stunned, when the poems we’d asked for were read aloud. “Where did that come from?” Where indeed. A few years later, I decided it was time to try this out in a different environment.

As I walked through the woods towards Dartington Shops, shouldering the tools of my trade, I buzzed with excitement. I had no idea how this would go, and no specific expectations of the outcome, but this was something I really wanted to do, loved to do, and I was so full of the intention of generosity and play. What could go wrong?

I set up at my designated table, propping up a sign and laying out pad, pens and a three minute wooden egg timer. Actually, the three minute thing was random. I’d intended to do five minutes, but I couldn’t find a five minute timer in time, so three minutes it was. Now all I had to do was wait.

I remember the first poem I wrote that day, for a woman shopping with her daughter for last minute Christmas presents. She wanted a poem for her eldest daughter, about struggling to get out of bed in the morning. “Make it funny” she said, and left. I turned my timer, an

d wrote. It wasn’t great; it could’ve been worse. I had something. I wrote it out in neat with a red felt calligraphy pen, rolled it into a scroll and tied it with golden thread as a gift. I read it to the customer, who gave me no big response, but took it. Great! First one done. I was on my way.

The rest of the day included laughter, tears and spontaneous wows and hugs from a steady stream of strangers. People shared so honestly, and in return I opened myself to see, to listen, to feel what was being asked for, and let my pen respond with respect and boldness.

When I came away from that day the word that kept coming up was Fun; sheer, pure, lively, tingly Fun with a capital F. I’d written about everything from gardens in winter to Minecraft, and been commissioned to write a poem to be read at the requester’s own funeral! It was quite a trip I took while sitting at that bench all day.

There was something so freeing about doing something so very, well, me. However, as often with experiences that transcend the everyday, it was full of paradox. Because I was being so me, I was connecting easily with the me of everyone I encountered. As I wrote ego me stepped aside, allowing me to simply let the words through. I was not, in that moment, in the least concerned about me the poet proving her skill, or writing something objectively brilliant. It was me Harula; human being, wordsmith, in service to that soul before me who asked me to craft something for them. What mattered was that they were served by what I wrote. I couldn’t have cared less if anyone else liked the poem, as long as the asker felt seen, met and served by those words.

When I wrote three minute poems again more recently, in the Exeter Library Café, I was reminded of the basic goodness and generosity of the majority of people. That day I was writing for coffees; not for me, but for donations so that anyone could enjoy a warming cuppa, whether they had the money for it or not. Thirty minutes and three poems later I had £15 to donate to their suspended coffees scheme. The experience so thrilled me that I immediately shared it on my blog when I returned home. That post remains the most ‘liked’ post on my blog, in almost six years of blogging.

Service is a beautiful thing; it’s when there is no distinction between the server and the served. I feel so gifted by the trust and openness of each request. I believe the hunger, the eagerness to receive something so personal is a sign of our times, at least in the West. Everything has become so manufactured, so de-personalised, digitalized, fake-a-fied and screen distanced that to come close, even for just three minutes, to experiencing the sheer power and potential of tangible, spontaneous creativity; to witness and experience just how easily two human beings can connect and recognise one another; well, it’s magic.

For more information about The Poetry Takeaway, visit:

To read the most ‘liked’ post on my personal blog, go to:



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