Getting a dose of poetry on demand, on State Street, on First Thursday | Photo: Melinda Palacio

Fourteen poets gathered on State Street for First Thursday on June 6 to type free poems, composed on the spot, on any subject, for anyone. Thanks to Simon Kiefer who provided typewriters and tables, we were able to make this month’s event even bigger than last September, when we only had five poets on five vintage typewriters. It was wonderful collaborating with Simon to bring poems to so many people. We had poets who could write poems in Spanish, English, and German. At least, those are the languages that people requested. I know we had poets who could also write in French and Russian at our typewriter poetry extravaganza.

Getting a dose of poetry on demand, on State Street, on First Thursday | Photo: Melinda Palacio

Typewriter on-demand poetry has become a cherished event for all the poets involved. I love how the event keeps growing as more poets have expressed an interest in participating. The first hour is always slow. At 5 p.m. people are still getting off of work and First Thursday early birds are still trying to figure out what exactly is going on with the long tables and people seated in front of a typewriter. Some folks are still a little bashful once they figure out that we are offering them a free poem. There is no gimmick, the poems are free and you do not have to provide your email or phone number or offer a tip. In fact, in consideration of the city’s panhandling ordinance, it’s best if you expressed your gratitude with a smile. However, we were not panhandling, but offering a free service with no requirements or expectations for compensation. Kindness in the form of a free poem.

In addition to free poems, we offered entertainment, thanks to Mark Zolezzi and Jesse Felix of The Gruntled. On vocals, Mark did a great job of using his microphone to explain about the free poem business. My typewriter had a meltdown and the ribbon was completely destroyed. Although we had one typewriter down, I had planned to take a break to take in the scene and capture some photos and to play some music. Mark and Jesse were kind enough to let me use their set up and play some songs on my ukulele. I ended my short set with one of my original songs, “Letter to Time,” that I often play on guitar. Our poets enjoyed hearing The Gruntled over our clacking of keys.

I was sad to learn that it was The Gruntled’s last performance. Jesse Felix is moving to New Mexico, so Santa Barbara loses another creative and kind human. My selfish wish is that he will be in town to visit when we have our next typewriter on-demand event.

Poets typing in time to the music of The Gruntled | Photo: Melinda Palacio

Six o’clock, when people figure out they can receive a poem for free, is when I wish we had enlisted more poets and brought more typewriters. Some of our poets were overwhelmed with orders. Next time, I will make sure to brief each poet and let them know not to start more than one poem at a time. However, I understand the instinct not to turn anyone away. At any given moment there were six to seven poets available to type.

Poets had the opportunity to get to know someone outside their regular circles. We met people out on the town with their family, friends, and pets. There’s something so gratifying and spiritually rewarding about providing poems for free to a stranger. I especially enjoyed learning people’s stories. The human connection and interaction is always my favorite part of typewriter poetry. I have no doubt that in our next iteration, the event will be even bigger. Look for another typewriter extravaganza this year.

Upcoming Poetry Events

July 12, Guess Who’s In Town Reading Series, featuring Marsha de la O and Michelle Bitting, Unity of Santa Barbara Chapel, 227 E. Arrellaga Street, 5:30 p.m.

August 4, Goleta Valley Library Series featuring Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Melinda Palacio, 2 p.m. 

Poem of the Week

This week’s poem comes from noted poet Laura Mullen. Laura has returned to her hometown of Santa Barbara, where her grandfather was the founding director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. After his death, her grandmother ran an art gallery out of her house in Montecito, the Esther Bear Gallery, from 1965-1975. It’s wonderful to have her great talent back in town.

The Last Straw
by Laura Mullen

“The final straw” such a light gold
Shining nearly invisible sift of
Almost undetectable weight breaks
We say ouch the back of the camel
Or monkey in some versions horse
We thought could carry anything
Whoosh collapses that high stack
Of cut stems still smelling faintly
Of summer fields fallow around this
Sudden mess we could all see coming
No one expects look how the grains
Of sand spin as a glittering thread
Down adding onto the sliding heap 
In the bottom of the hourglass bright
Years of a loving marriage then
He said this and she leaning away
Said sharply that when did the laugh
Lines get lost in this carved mask
Of a face set in sadness I thought
I could escape with just one more
Drink it’s always fine until it’s
Abruptly the drop from a little
Worry about the hospital bill 
To trying to figure out where
You can park safely overnight
The car you’re living in or 
The stolen shopping cart one 
Single degree of heat and  
Glaciers slump and dissolve 
The surf is breaking against 
The bookcase a feather can drift
Down out of the sky and then
What seemed easy to heft and
Shift is suddenly way too crash
Much whoever we were before
Whatever useful form we took
We’re this now needing again
To be lifted and gathered up

Laura Mullen’s poetry collections and hybrid-genre works have been published by several university presses including the University of California Press, and she also has books with FuturePoem, Otis / Seismicity, and Solid Objects. Her work has been anthologized in collections from Norton, Wesleyan, and elsewhere. A collaboration with composer Nathan Davis—”a Sound uttered, a Silence crossed”—had its premiere in La Jolla in 2015; Verge (a limited edition artist’s book), done with John David O’Brien, appeared in 2017, and her ninth collection, EtC, was published at the end of 2023. Keep up with her at

Premier Events

Get News in Your Inbox


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.