Excerpt from Diary of A Street Poet by Javier Eye
Translated by Adrian Lebron-Hernandez
Biography through interrogatives:
Maybe some part of my personal story will encourage you to follow your dream if you’re one of those artists still trapped in their chrysalis. My fingers burn as I write this as I believe it's time to stretch my wings. Artist or no, I invite you to close your eyes and take two deep breaths before continuing, to connect with your sense of touch, to treat this book as a part of you, for that is how I feel it, how I write it. I firmly believe that everything lives in us, that everything which is present in our reality in a more notable or subtle form,“belongs to us”, and the other way around, dancing in this almost eternal game of mirrors. When we touch we are also touched by that which we touch.
Next, I’ll introduce a part of my biography in a nonlinear fashion, but rather, built around the questions you ask me in the street.
Through this compilation and selection of questions, I’ll make an interview created by each and every one of you so that you can altogether create this figure of the interviewer as one unit. Even as you all form it individually, to me you are all one, as a body forms, because without a brain or a liver it wouldn’t work.(Even having their own names and functions, they both belong and contribute to the functioning of the same unique body).
And because without you, this book wouldn’t be in your hands.
What is it that you really do?
It’s all about improvising poetry on the spot with an old typewriter, an activity with along history in various countries and, as I’ve been able to see, each poet has as their slogan or is referred to in a different way, in my case, as I mentioned earlier, it’s instantaneous poetry.
How does it work? Do people tell you what they want? What’s your source of inspiration?
Yes, the“classic” modality involves a base word or subject and from there, to create the poem. Although I also work with tarot, asking a question and drawing two cards for inspiration. And lastly, something I call “the soul’s poem” where theinspiration stems merely from the person’s presence.
How much do you earn?
Good question, I’ll start off by saying that earnings and price aren’t completely to my liking for it’s not a sale per se. I consider it not only a monetary exchange, but an experiential one which, in my opinion, I consider incalculable just like anything else which demands such a close, personal, and direct connection to human emotions.
Giving art a price in general is, I believe, unique, relative, and summarily subjective. For this very reason, neither the people I know who do this or me myself, choose an exact price. We let the person be the one to decide how much the experience is worth to them once they’ve lived it.
Nonetheless, it is true that in the last year it’s been decided that a minimum ought to be established in order to cover the time investment, material, etc… And in that way, y reveal my claws a little bit in defense of art, while not feeling insulted.
How did you come to do this, what pushed you to dedicate yourself to it?
I looked for some time for a job which I could take with me as I travel, one in which I was my own boss, which could help other people and was, of course, fun, enriching, and also creatively stimulating. I thought it’d be impossible, but suddenly, in a market in Ibiza, I saw Tania Panes, with her poetry stand, her picture hat, and her typewriter;
Next to her a sign stated: “tú dame el tema yo hago el poema” (Give me the theme andI’ll write you the poem).
I felt something indescribable which rushed from my feet to my crown. I closed in without thinking about it too much and proceeded to ask her a million questions just like the ones I’m answering right now, I asked her for a poem with a subject which weighed heavy in my mind at the moment, which was quite painful.The poem did so much good for me that it changed my day, andI can now confidently state, my life. Since then, I could feel something inside me telling me that I should do this for a living, at least for a while.
After almost a year of toying with the idea in my head, after making it past dozens of obstacles, life gifted me a typewriter as if by magic, and of course, I couldn’t not say yes.
Where do you do it?
My current base of operations is in Madrid and the places I most commonly visit are the Royal Palace and the lake at the Parque del Retiro.
With that in mind, I love traveling and I’ve done it in various streets in many different cities and in different events.
Do you make a living from it?
As of right now I could say yes. 90% of my income comes from my poetry work. It’s not enough for a life of luxury but it can be done if you compromise to do it and more than anything else, with yourself.
How many hours do you work?
It entirely depends on the day and the time of the year. It also depends on how many hours of sunlight we may have in the day. I usually attempt to work on Thursdays,Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. A workday will normally last as many hours as I can work given that the mind has its limits when it comes to creating.
How many poems can you write in a day?
It ranges from a minimum of about 5 on a regular day to possibly more than 30 for some special event.
How long are they? (The poems)
A 6 paper sheet size (you’ll see it further into the book). The verses oscillate between 8 and 16 lines depending on the inspiration I may get on any given day and on the subject. I give myself as much freedom as possible.
Do you not occasionally run into writer’s block? How do you manage to always stay inspired? Aren’t there moments of doubt?
Of course, I’ve run into blocks, especially in the beginning. The first times I go out and the first poems of the day until I’m all warmed up. Your worst enemies are your mind, perfectionism, concern over whether or not the person I’m writing the poem about will like it. If they’ll be hurt by what I wrote, fear of making mistakes, of negative judgements or perceptions, of not being enough for some people etc…
The main ting is figuring out how to get over it, one has to count on their talent, on life for bringing one to that particular person.Particularly given that, in my way of seeing things, nothing is ever a coincidence, neither the people one may run into, nor the subjects I’m asked to write poems about. As I pointed out during the introduction, there’s always apiece of the person you’re writing about in you and vice versa. Summarizing, yes, one always runs into curves, bumps in the road, blizzards, and many kinds of challenges, but in my experience, they’re all solved with the same thing.Confidence, trust in oneself.
In this line of work, can you ever make mistakes?
You can, and it's my personal opinion that you should. It’s something I think is healthy. The typewriter doesn’t let you edit just like that, so on the one hand it appears as though one has to think through what they’re going to write very thoroughly, but on the other, I believe thinking too much sabotages you, and someone’s counting on you for a result.
Once again, the antidote is confidence, and if you make a mistake you cross it out. You can always ask if they’re OK with that and rewrite it. To me it’s part of the process and I love every perfect imperfection.
Has there ever been a time someone disliked the poem you wrote for them? Why do you think it was?
Yes, very few times. From the thousands of poems I can remember, there’s only been three times they weren’t liked.
The reasons for this are varied. First, because given that we’re lucky enough to have many requests, at a certain point your mind, your focus and the flow of inspiration have their limits and sometimes you can tell.Even if you surprise yourself sometimes, if one poem was “weaker” than the rest, it’s simply a product of exhaustion.
It also depends on the subject of the poem and whether or not it motivates you. And lastly, there can be this search for perfection on the part of the receiver which of course brings dissatisfaction because sometimes nothing is good enough for us and there’s not much that can be done with that.
What do you like the most and least about it?
The thing I like the most about it are people’s expressions when they see my stand for the first time. I can see how they were as kids for just a few seconds, I like the brightness in their eyes, their smiles, I like the alchemical effect that occurs given that they arrive one way and leave feeling better, especially when they’ve already had the experience.
What I like the least are people who don’t respect their turn when they see me talking to somebody else and rudely interrupt the conversation. I also dislike how we’re undervalued as artists, that we are seen as the stereotypical starving artist and that the importance of our work isn’t valued by society.
Even though both these feelings coexist inside of me at different levels, life only prints and amplifies that which we can’t see and what we carry inside of us so we can pay attention to it, accept it, transmute it.
Have you always written?
I started doing this on the street sporadically, the winter before the pandemic while I was living in Granada. As for writing in itself, I've been doing it consistently for close to a decade.
Why did you start writing?
The truth is, that like the majority of poets that I know, I started writing for emotional survival, because of an existential crisis in which I didn’t know where to plasmate everything that was happening to me and my being choosing writing as my escape route. And I also threw myself into a bit of a survival situation in the street after a change of residence and a very complicated break up where I felt I had lost everything and that I lacked the strength todo anything, but poetry remained there. In reality, it never left.
How much time passed from the moment you wrote your first poem to when you shared it with the world?
Maybe a year or more, Under no circumstance could I have imagined that this squished lettering with guts and ink could’ve been appreciated by so many.
What is the theme or poem that was the biggest challenge for you to write about?
It has been a few, all for different reasons. The first one that comes to mind is one in relation to domestic abuse requested by a woman wearing sunglasses with bruises covering her skin. Another one was from a Roma woman whose son was going to prison and wanted to be able to take him with her and insisted I do it well.
Another one with which I had a hard time was the theme: “A Chicken Taco”, not the Mexican dish, but a little square of raw pink chicken.
There’s also the subjects relating to pain and the loss of family members because those subjects touch me quite deeply.
And those relating to soccer and politics because those are subjects which I avoid delving too deep into.
What happens when you don’t feel like writing about a particular subject?
There lies the artist’s sieve. In this case one has to scratch the skin of the game and try to find the urge to write about it in the most objective way possible.
Do you flirt a lot while you work?
To be honest, no. It’s occurred to me a couple times while I’ve been setting up or cleaning up but while I’m in the artist’s space so to speak, giving poetry that care that it deserves it’s like you’re entering another plane, one full of beauty and vulnerability, I feel fulfilled and I have no need to find anything further than that and I guess that as I project that energy people perceive it and don’t try to flirt.
What are the kinds of poems you like to write the most?
I like the ones which are kind of “random”, which I don’t expect and invite a sort of gaminess. The ones about the purest love stories which avoid romanticizing this force, the erotic ones and the visceral ones. As well as those which are about nature, or when I’m given a title which is in itself poetic.
What are the kinds of themes you’re asked to write about the most?
Love, family and friendship.
Are there people who don’t have a subject in mind?
Many times. They want a poem, it's their wish, but they don't know what they want it to be about.
In these cases I pull out the tarot mallet, even though I've also written poems whose subject’s been “I don't have a theme” “I don’t know”and other things along those lines.
What’s the freakiest thing you’ve been asked to write about?
A guy told me he’d fallen in love with an alien and wanted a poem about it.
What bothers you the most?
When I’m asked for a poem and I explain the way it works, they tell me the subject and after connecting with the inspiration necessary I start writing but they start talking about every other thing and asking questions about everything except the subject at hand even though they can clearly “see” that I’m trying to focus but they keep going. The worst part is that it’s their poem, I think that sometimes we really just need to be paid attention to and we can’t stand the silence. It also used to really bother me that I’d be asked for something and then I’d put all my effort into it, but they’d never come back for it.
Which poem has influenced you the most?
Each one of them has, in one way or another. Your subjects and themes are my own, they’re the world’s and with each one I change, we all change.
Which poem made you melt the most?
A little girl, about 6 years old, split from her parents and came up to me, with them waiting in the distance she said, "When I’m alone, I climb up a tree I have at home, the world looks different from there. I want a poem about that, I don’t have money to pay you but I do have a heart shaped sticker."
How did you come up with the name “Instant poetry”?
I got the idea from Polaroid cameras, because even though the images that come out of those cameras, just like text printed from a typewriter are from some time ago, I nonetheless feel like they’re quite prescient today, with social media we want things now we need that dopamine hit to keep going.
I also think it works great as a marketing strategy and it's also easy to understand in various European languages.
What do you do when your fingers get cold?
The gloves I wear are those that don’t have fingers so to keep the exposed parts of my fingers warm I’ll breathe on them and I also carry a thermos with warm water for an infusion or cocoa.
You likely get many requests from children, how do you write them. Do you use a more infantile tone?
Yes, the truth is that I don’t put a lot of effort into the kind of language or the tone that I use, I simply follow the same procedure I would with an adult. I try to feel like I’m wearing their skin and in some way channel what they’d say, think or would like to hear. Amore apt description for these would likely be small tales rather than poems.
What’s the shortest poem you’ve written?
Once I was asked for the word empty and the poem was the same word tracing a circle.
What’s the poem which touched you most deeply?
They all do in one way or another, the ones that touch me the most are ones older people ask for and in particular, I remember one for a woman who told me that she was thinking of committing suicide. It was an enormous undertaking separating myself from that responsibility in a way. I did it, and thanks to the poem she promised me she wouldn’t do it and we hugged.
Also, a young man, about 30 years old shared with me that his 2 year old daughter had died less than a year earlier. He wanted a crude poem without beauty because he felt like it was impossible for him to cry and he wanted a poem for that. I wrote it and after that, he managed to cry and after doing it he gave me a hug and told me that his partner, (the child’s mother) had committed suicide the previous month.
When you write a poem for someone, what is your source of inspiration? Do you ask? Or is it more their vibe and the environment?
Other than the core subject of the poem, yes. Non-verbal cues, their culture, their age, the way they dress, their social class, all of this helps a lot even though it all happens so quickly.
How do you come up with the poem so quickly? Do you think this is possible simply because it’s a gift or talent you have or is there a technique?
I don’t know if it’s a technique as such, it’s a hodgepodge of factors. I don’t at all believe that it’s simply a gift, but rather, it’s just part of it. Confidence in your own skill and confidence in the moment, giving into that divine synchronicity without doubts, the knowledge that that person has chosen you and that you’re ready for it.
The second I would say is the practice, it wasn’t always this quick. Thirdly, I guess so, that some kind of talent or innate quality one is born is part of it, one just has to find that skill as I’ve found this one.
What does this art give to you?
Well, this is one of the reasons I’m writing this book. Because I receive so much that I need a long-form text to express it. Even so, I can simply say that it allows me the freedom of choosing my own schedule, of being my own boss, it roots me, it allows me to observe the beauty in everything and to lighten problems. Without a doubt, growing through people’s experiences, it makes me more human, it teaches me to be in the present and ready to serve.
Art gives me the joy of using the verb “to give” and connects me with another, with universality, and it keeps me in a creative training and with an active imagination.
You must read a lot, right?
Surprisingly, no. I’ve had trouble, ever since I’ve had use of reason, when it comes to focusing, as well as some attention deficit, which barely allowed me to finish a book.
Luckily, poetry doesn’t require the same constancy a novel or some other branch of literature would require.
It is true that I, at times, became interested and took stabs at some verses from books which lay around the house from time to time. Now everything’s easier with the internet. I've discovered beautiful things and I've been working on my focus for some time.
What kind of poetry do you read?
I enjoy mostly contemporary poetry, that which does not search for rhyme, that which proposes unimaginable images, the visceral, as well as that which is vulnerable with ancestral touches, as well as the biting, ironic and lucid. In generalI also like everything transgressive and disruptive.
Who are your favorite poets?
I’ve really liked a bunch of the vanguardists such as Cesar Vallejo, Lorca, María Zambrano, Benedetti or Neruda. I’d also like to cite Nicanor Parra, who drifts from the vanguard to Anti Poetry which I find revolutionary. From the newer generation my favorite is Leopoldo María Panero. I love a few of today’s poets, as I feel what they do is closer, fresher, and more alive and parallel to this time and space we share. I believe everything evolves and we evolve with it too. To my mind, Gioconda Benedetti is unbeatable.
I can also mention from the contemporaneously most well known, Elvira Sastre and Marwan. Some less well known, but by now means less important, The next are from among the reciting, video poem, or simply for their prose. I’ve seen myself reflected in them and they’ve opened a window to a style which I can call my own which previously lay covered by dust and time in my conscience’s attic and whom I highly appreciate as we intertwine with each other. They are Tomás Galindo, Andri Castillo (@cuentoscentrífugos en IG),Anna Blau (@lavozoval en IG) y Bárbara Cabezas (@Animal_Barbi en IG).
 Note that in Spanish, taco is a polysemic word, it can mean both the Mexican dish or something (usually a food item) in the shape of a cube.
 In Spanish this works particularly well because the words instant and poetry rhyme.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR: Adrián Lebrón-Hernández is a junior year student at Salem State University. He was born and raised in Madrid, Spain and moved to the United States with his family in the fall of 2014. Through this experience, he speaks Spanish and English fluently. He is a French and English major and a Spanish minor. He has traveled extensively around Europe which has been greatly conducive to his passion for language. He loves writing fiction and poetry and is currently working on his first draft of a novel, as he sees himself becoming either a literary translator and/or a novelist.