The farmer’s market at Brant Lake (Clark’s Country Mall) is an outdoor market that does a brisk business on Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Route 8 in the Adirondacks. The big draw in August is the sweet corn, peaches and pies. I sit at a table at one end, “Meet the Author” banner behind me. People pull in with bikes, kayaks, cars and trucks and aim for the produce. It’s difficult to draw customers to fiction or poetry, away from the bounty of Buhrmaster Farms.
So I’ve taken to calling out to folks as they pass by with their pies and peaches “You want literature with that?” More often than not, the response is “No thanks, I’m good.”
With kids, especially younger ones, I ask if they would like me to read them a poem. I feel a little like the Old Dope Peddler or worse. “Hey kiddie. Want some of this?” You have to be careful luring young children in with small samples of poetry. What if they get hooked?
Often one or two get enticed. I read a short poem and if I’m lucky I get “I liked it!” (as if surprised). “Awesome!” one said. “Did you write that?” which indicates a level of curiosity beyond the words—a sort of incredulity that:
1) this is poetry and it doesn’t bite.
2) in their sketchy education they have previously been exposed to poetry that sucks and they now hear angel harps.
3) they experience complete awe that this adult does this, like it’s an occupation or something, making money selling words at a farmer’s market way the hell up in the Adirondacks.
If successful, the Old-Dope-Peddler approach brings in the parent(s) as well. Sometimes they are so enchanted by their kid’s enchantment they will spend $10-15 on a book or two of poetry, and I make gas money and something to put in the Three Poets Old Age Fund.
One child, six or seven years of age, was very suspicious, as all children should be of an adult offering them poetry. She looked both wistful and mistrusting and sidled closer to the food where the parents were shopping. They seemed unconcerned or distracted. Fingers in her mouth, the little girl listened to the poem, eyes shining and only occasionally darting to the left to check in with Mom and Dad. It was as if she was worried they might think she was engaging in risky behavior, but they were oblivious to all but Mrs. Smith’s pies.
That particular poem, “Silver Bay Lullaby” by Elaine Handley, from a chapbook of ours called “Notes from the Fire Tower” has sold more poetry than fiction at this Farmer’s Market as well as at other book fairs depending on the crowd and number of young children whom I can entice into the sticky, drug-addled web of poetry dependency.
In this American idiom, the local Farmer’s Market, I have engaged with visitors from way out West, a woman wearing an “I Miss Obama” tee shirt, a man in a “Make America Great Again” red cap and four lovely and excited immigrant teenage girls wearing head scarves. Our conversations have covered more weather than the current political climate. But of all those who visit my market table burdened with fiction and poetry, I have most engaged with children. I have learned hope from them as they listen to simple lines. They hear a language richer and deeper and more colorful than what they hear in normal conversation. They are mystically blissful, and so am I.
“Silver Bay Lullaby” by Elaine Handley
The mountains cradle
the last morning mist between them
like parents who’ve brought the baby to bed.
White breath, white silence, expectation.
They are poets who spend the day singing
jade, amethyst, emerald, cobalt
and hush the lake to silver dusk,
and hush the lake to silver dusk.
from “Notes from the Fire Tower” Three Poets on the Adirondacks.