the gentlewoman

The Reader

Jacqueline Suskin will write poetry at thirty words-per-minute on any subject for any price. The brains and words behind Poem Store, Jacqueline created the LA-based on-demand service in 2009 with one aim: to bring verse to the mainstream. Poem Store offers customers an original piece on a topic of their choice, for a sum they set. It’s a novel concept that has taken Jacqueline and her typewriter from a regular spot at Hollywood Farmer’s Market to Art Basel via Kris Jenner’s 60th birthday party. Jacqueline’s also the editor in chief of the Dilettante Paper series, has written two books and last year delivered her first TEDx talk. Frankie Mathieson spoke with Jacqueline at her home in Silver Lake, northeast Los Angeles.

Jacqueline Suskin

Frankie: What are you working on the moment?

Jacqueline: I’m working on four books at once: a collection of Poem Store poems that I’ve saved over the years, a book of poems about California, a book of prayers and a book about appreciating the past. I’m letting each project do what it will. It took me four years to finish each of my previous books, so I have patience with the process.

F: How long does a poem typically take you to write for Poem Store?

J: About a minute, always less than two. I have a degree in poetry so I have all these great writing skills, but Poem Store isn’t really about that – it’s not about creating a masterpiece. It’s about crafting something quickly for someone who’s most likely sceptical and in a rush, and then the result being something so accessible yet personal that they’re moved. When I write a book or a poem for publication, I love the editing process and spending time on them. Coming home to my desk allows me to slow down for those projects that don't have a time limit.

F: Are people usually surprised at how quickly you can write a poem?

J: The quickness of Poem Store is about the one-on-one connection, the fast pace of it offers instant gratification and that’s what people are usually after. They don’t expect that I’ll write a poem so special that they have to sit down and pause. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition.

F: Give me some examples of subjects you’ve been asked to write about.

J: I’ve heard it all – every sexual topic, every dark secret, every type of food. Usually folks just ask for poems about their dogs, their kids, birthdays, anniversaries, but often they will dig deeper and ask me to comment on their life. They treat me like a fortune-teller, a psychic, and a therapist.

F: And where are some of the more unconventional places you’ve pitched up with your typewriter?

J: I think it’s pretty irregular to see Poem Store anywhere, but my weekly spot at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market is a nice surprise for everyone. They come for beautiful produce and get a one-of-a-kind poem as well. Since I’ve moved to LA, I’ve worked all kinds of wild and wonderful events. I wrote a poem for Oprah and she cried and held my hand. Nothing really tops that.

F: Indeed. Who else would you like to write for?

J: I would love to collaborate with Rookie. They reach an audience of teenage girls with such style and class. I’d love to get poetry into that outlet. I’d also love to collaborate with a company that makes journals because it’s really important to me that every person writes in a journal.

F: Especially at that Rookie age.

J: I’d lead a journal crusade if I could. It’s such a crucial practice and young people are really falling away from it.

F: Did you write when you were younger?

J: My first poem I wrote was about a fox. I think I was five.

F: What did you do before you became a poet professionally?

J: Oh, I’ve had a job since I was 11 years old. I worked as a waitress, a nightshift clerk at a dorm, a nanny, a farm hand, a housekeeper, at an independent bookstore… I like to work. But I still find it incredible that I get to write poems for a living – it’s been my only job since 2009. Every time I sit down to type, I wonder if it’ll work, if people will still need my poems. And they do.

F: Could you compose a poem about The Gentlewoman right now in two minutes?

J: The Gentlewoman:

Walk the way of wisdom and wit,

with her poise and purpose

she gathers story after story,

plucks ripe fruit from branches

that no else can see, holds the holy

tone of earth in her strength

and yet unfurls like a soft

treasure. Petal and skin, fire

and firm focus, she makes

the mould of the world

again and again with grace.

F: Wow! 01:58 - thank you, Jacqueline.

Interview by Frankie Mathieson. Photography by Shelby Duncan, courtesy of Jacqueline Suskin. Poem Store’s digital home is yoursubjectyourprice.com. Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!