Topacio Althaus shows up each Saturday morning, sets up a tiny table for her Smith Corona typewriter, and sits down to work. “Work” means listening to people’s requests for various kinds of expressive communication — for a friend, child, lover, or sometimes even the requester — and then conjuring up just the right words in a flash, in poetic form. She types the poem on a thin piece of cardboard, pulls it out of the typewriter roller, and reads it aloud before handing it off to the person who has made the request. Not only is she, as Bill describes: “nimble with words and vigorous with her fingers (on the typewriter keys),” she is a generous composer of words, for once the little piece of cardboard passes from her hand to another’s she never sees it again. I’ve watched people walk away with smiles of pleasure, contentment, and even relief. I think finding the words to express a feeling, desire, or experience can be a huge comfort, and I’m beginning to think everyone needs a poet in their lives.
Our friend Andy, who lives in Glasgow, Scotland learned about Topacio in my recent post “A Poem for Natalie” http://twointhemiddle.com/2013/11/23/poem-natalie/ He wrote, “I was charmed to learn of your poet at the local market and her ‘Poem Corner’ — what a marvellous idea! I noted her quite distinctive name and I was prompted (I won’t dignify my attempt by saying, ‘inspired’) to try a little poem-writing in response. Maybe it will raise a smile. I had fun trying to make each line start with a letter of her name, although that was a bit of a challenge. I really admire her setting up her Poem Corner, willing to take on all comers, so to speak, and compose her poems so swiftly (and well) in public: she obviously likes to work under pressure!”
The poem Andy wrote travelled from Glasgow to Los Angeles, and into Topacio’s hands this very morning, when Bill and I delivered it to her. The photo at the top of this page is taken right after I handed the poem to Topacio. She exclaimed excitedly, “He used the acrostic form!” (An acrostic poem uses the letters in a word to begin each line of the poem. All lines of the poem relate to or describe the main topic word.) Here Topacio reads Andy’s poem, which you can read too:
Topacio was so delighted. She said this was the first time anyone had written a poem for her in response to her Poem Corner. So, then, what did she do? She wrote a poem — “For Andrew.” Here it is, atop a photograph Andy took of “Castle Hill,” where he lives (and takes glorious walks).