July 26, 2021 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Queer Poetry to Pay the Rent

By Melanie Camp

It started as an experiment. Brian Sonia-Wallace wanted to see if he could pay his rent through poetry. From here, his journey as Rent Poet began.

Working with numerous social justice and arts non-profits since college, in 2014, the poet found himself in between jobs.

“I was at a point where I was looking to take a just minimum wage job,” he said, holding him over until something more substantial came along.

However, after doing the math on California minimum wage and comparing what he’d earn working a retail job versus busking on a street corner as a poet with a typewriter, he decided to hit the streets.

Initially, those in the poetry community thought Sonia-Wallace was crazy.

“It was actually funny, I went to different poetry venues, and I talked about what I was doing, and all the poets rolled their eyes and were like, ‘yeah good luck with that.’” 

Those who did support Sonia-Wallace’s artistic endeavor were the least likely. 

“The bankers and real estate people were like, ‘this is fantastic! Can we pay you to come to do poems at our events’ and the poets were like, ‘yeah, you’ll never make money like that,’” he said.

Sonia-Wallace describes himself as falling into a weird space somewhere between a Capitalist and a Marxist. 

“In the sense of thinking about art as labor,” he said explaining, “we have this idea that art is a great thing for kids and self-expression and therapy and those are all sorts of personal pursuits,” for which we don’t expect to be paid. 

Whether he sets up on a street corner or at an event full of investment bankers, his job as Rent Poet is always the same. He asks a couple questions:  Who the poem is for, and what is the subject? Then, after 10 minutes or so, tapping on his typewriter, he crafts a one-of-a-kind poem. 

The poet believes poetry is a tool that “has a lot of potential to connect to people.” Quoting Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Poetry is the shortest distance between two people,” Sonia-Wallace agrees poems are, in a way, like spells. “I do think people, in a relatively secular age, come to poetry for things that they would have gone to a shaman or a witch or a potion maker for,” he said. 

There are limits on what Sonia-Wallace will write as Rent Poet. He once turned down a man who asked him to write something to help win back an ex-girlfriend.

“There’s a bit of neuroscience that says when we hear a story our brains are patterning themselves in the same way that the person remembering and telling that story’s brain is patterned. Which is just like the neuroscience of empathy. If you are telling someone a story or a poem, it is as if you are making their brain be your brain for a moment,” said the poet.

After a couple of years as Rent Poet, in 2016, Sonia-Wallace published his first book, “I Sold These Poems, Now I Want Them Back.” inspired by his experience as a poet for hire. His role as Rent Poet has landed Sonia-Wallace in a series of unlikely writer residencies. One with Amtrack, another on the road as a poet in residence for a political campaign in Tennessee. In another, Sonia-Wallace found via Facebook, the poet set up his typewriter and wrote poems at the Mall of America in Minnesota. 

The Mall of America gig led to a New York Times article, which led to Sonia-Wallace getting a second book deal through Harper Collins. That book is due for release next year, 2020. 

“I’ve just done all of these very Americana poetry adventures,” said Sonia-Wallace and this is what the book is centered around.

For Pride month, the poet is staying closer to home. As part of the City of West Hollywood’s One City One Pride LGBTQ Festival, throughout June, Sonia-Wallace is running Everyone Deserves (A) Love (Poem), a Pride poet pop-up interactive installation where queer poets armed with typewriters will set up on the streets of West Hollywood and type you a poem. 

City of West Hollywood Arts Coordinator, Mike Che, told The Pride LA the pop-up is “an interactive art project where anyone can get a love poem written for them or someone they love, in celebration of this year’s One City One Pride theme; Love is Love.”

On May 22 – Harvey Milk Day – Sonia-Wallace and team of typewriter poets worked the first installation to kick-off One City One Pride. 

“Everyone who received a poem left with a smile on their face, which is I think the best thing this project could accomplish,” said Che. 

As Sonia -Wallace said, “words are how we record our thoughts and put them in other people’s heads.”

That is the power of a poem.

Get a poem at the Dyke March on June 7 from 6pm-9pm. Also, the One City One Pride booth at Pride on the Boulevard, June 8 and 9, from 12pm-7pm will host a Pride poet pop-up. Plus, the poets will be typing at the Day of Art event on June 30 from 1:30pm-7:30pm

For last-minute pop-up notifications and exact locations, follow @rentpoet and @WeHoArts on Instagram.

Listen to the Beautiful Hollywood Podcast with Melanie Camp and hear Rent Poet share his story here: anchor.fm/beautiful-hollywood/episodes/Rent-Poet-e3t2pf

Related Posts

Disneyland Drops ‘Boys and Girls’ Reference

July 19, 2021

July 19, 2021

Disneyland will be changing the introduction to its nightly fireworks show from “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,...

Trans Incident At Wi Spa May Have Been Staged

July 19, 2021

July 19, 2021

On June 24th an Instagram user “cubaangel” posted a video of herself angrily confronting a staff member at the Wi...

Podcast Host Mat George Killed In Hit-And-Run

July 19, 2021

July 19, 2021

Mathew George, gay co-host of the podcast “She Rates Dogs”, has died at the age of 26 after a hit-and-run...

Los Angeles LGBT Center Vaccinates Trans and Non-Binary Community Members

July 14, 2021

July 14, 2021

The Los Angeles LGBT Center has made it its mission to vaccinate the  trans and non-binary  community in a safe...

Gaywatch: Back To The Beach

July 14, 2021

July 14, 2021

On Saturday July 10th Venice Pride hosted Gaywatch: Back To The Beach, a queer dance party at the only gay-owned...

City of West Hollywood Launches ‘Dockless Mobility’ Pilot Program

July 14, 2021

July 14, 2021

City of West Hollywood Launches ‘Dockless Mobility’ Pilot Program with E-Scooters and E-Bikes from Bird, Lime, and Wheels. Starting July...

Riverdale Avenue Books Publishes “The Wizard Of Pride”

July 14, 2021

July 14, 2021

The Wizard of Pride is an LGBTQ retelling of the cult classic The Wizard of Oz.  Published by the innovative...

“Gayest Episode Ever” An LGBTQ+ Podcast

June 29, 2021

June 29, 2021

Gayest Episode Ever is an LGBTQ+ podcast hosted by journalist Drew Mackie and screenwriter Glen Lakin. The podcast looks at...

WeHo Poet Laureate Reviews LGBTQ Documentray “Senior Prom”

June 24, 2021

June 24, 2021

West Hollywood poet Laureate, RENT Poet founder and author of “The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with...

Dogdrop’s List Of LGBTQ+ Pet Accessories

June 20, 2021

June 20, 2021

Dogdrop, a queer owned dog daycare in Los Angeles, is highlighting a list of LGBTQ+ pet accessories for Pride month. ...

Backstreet Boys & *NSYNC Partner Up For “Bingo Under The Stars” Pride Event At The Grove

June 19, 2021

June 19, 2021

On June 18th The Grove hosted “Bingo Under The Stars” as a charitable Pride event at The Grove’s Level 8....

Drag Filled Cocktail Event At the Beverly Center

June 19, 2021

June 19, 2021

On June 17th Beverly Center and The Webster hosted a private cocktail event with some of the city’s brightest LGBTQ+ stars. ...

Beverly Center Pride Celebrations For Pride Month

June 19, 2021

June 19, 2021

Throughout Pride month from June1st – June 30th the Beverly Center will honor the LGBTQ+ community with its long-standing PRIDE...

WeHo One City One Pride Kick-Off

June 11, 2021

June 11, 2021

On Saturday, May 22, 2021 the City of West Hollywood kicked-off its One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival.  A...

Pride Poets Poetry Hotline This Weekend

June 11, 2021

June 11, 2021

West Hollywood’s poet laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace and the Pride Poets team will be writing free custom poems this weekend in...