Archive for July, 2015

“The Poetic Express” Take Three: Postal Correspondence and Performance Art

July 31, 2015


The story of The Poetic Express includes the various methods I used to distribute it.

For a many years, I had a very lively “postal life.”  I sent out good mail, so I often received good mail in return.  This was a major means of distributing The Poetic Express.

Once I received messages in a small metal can which was transformed into an art object.  Another time, I opened my Post Office Box only to find a lovely drawing on a piece of wood.  They’d just mailed the wood itself without wrapping it up.  The address was written on the wood. That was from the Zeitgeist/ Galerie Jacques artist Roger Hayes.

I’d always decorate my envelopes. I’d draw on them or apply stickers or rubber stamps.  I’d hoard the coolest postage stamps and stick them on in patterns.  My postal scales got plenty of use.

I was part of several mail art circles.  Much of my correspondence was with friends and family.  I paid special attention to the Surrealist movement.  It was similar the web and the Internet, in ways.  Yet it was quite labor intensive and time-consuming.  If email hadn’t come along, I’d have extended it all even further than I did.

As more people switched to email, I got less and less postal mail.  I finally had to close my P.O. Box.

I intend to start a major series of postal mailings as part of this anniversary: thirty years and heading toward forty years.


Also, I’d pass out my xerox work everywhere I went.  I used it as a therapeutic means by which to overcome my shyness and social awkwardness.  I tended to talk too quickly.  Sometimes I likely seemed a little rough or scruffy.

Years later, I heard that some people knew me as Red Bag, or as Mister Red Bag.  This was due to my usually carrying at least one red Detroit Public Library plastic book bag.  Eventually I switched to using a black shoulder bag.

I’d always be carrying too much stuff around due to my not driving a car.  When I brought things home from work or if I went shopping, I had to carry everything with me.  I couldn’t “leave it in the car.”

I developed and cultivated a sort of role or persona.  I looked on my distributing the Poetic Express in person, as a form of theatre or performance art.  I’d often create some of my brightly colored sidewalk drawings as well.

I’d size people up and ponder “Is this the sort of person who might enjoy some free poetry?”

Most people gladly accepted it.  I even got inquiries “Do you have any more of that free poetry?” or “Any poems today?”

Others were more dismissive or hostile.

Impromptu street recitals or readings did happen occasionally.  I rarely performed at  organized poetry readings.  When I did, I’d really get into it.  By 1988 I began to include puppets.  Sometimes these puppets would shout or sing my poems.

I rarely, almost never, asked for donations for the poetry.  Sometimes, when people insisted, I’d accept them.  I even received a few surprise checks in the mail for printing costs and general support.

I still pass out my poetry to people.  It’s usually less of a performance now.  I try to carry issues of The Poetic Express with me at all times.