Postcard from Poetic San Francisco

Last week brought approximately one million people to the Bay Area to celebrate America's men and women in the Armed Forces at the 37th annual San Francisco Fleet Week. My father served two combat deployments as a naval officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34) in the Tonkin Gulf in 1969 and 1970. For roughly the past decade, he and a group of fellow officers from the carrier known affectionately as The Mighty O have made the annual pilgrimage to the City by the Bay. This year the invitation extended to children and grandchildren, meaning nearly a dozen of us descended on the city to navigate cable cars, relentless hills, and the crowds at Fisherman's Wharf.

Between watching the Blue Angels maneuver over San Francisco and meeting the elite search, rescue, and detection K-9 squads, there was some time to take in the city's literary offerings as well, such as stopping by City Lights, the independent bookstore-publisher founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and professor Peter Martin.

After browsing the stacks of the beloved shop, we approached a young couple sitting on the sidewalk behind two well-used Smith-Corona typewriters. Their proposition was simple: for a modest fee, supply a topic and these street poets would compose a rhyme, right on the spot. Curious what a ten-dollar poem would yield, we agreed to the terms. The topic? An ode for my "effervescent" daughter. While the young man in the Yale sweatshirt typed away, his comely assistant paged through a well-worn paperback of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, copying words into a small notebook. "This is my vocabulary list for the day," explained the UT Austin English literature major. 

Ten minutes later, our creation was complete; a poem composed in sprung rhythm--a dynamic form similar to free verse--entitled, "For all the Bubbles in the World," a celebration of my vivacious, free-spirited child. A few spelling mistakes add to its charm.  

What drew these two to the field of itinerant poetry? "We love sharing our love of poetry with the world," said the young bard as she closed her book. True to the nature of their profession, the traveling minstrels would soon be packing up and heading to another city--they had recently spent a few weeks at Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA--where they would continue to spread good vibes via inspired verse.

As ever, San Francisco remains a most welcoming place for all walks of life.