Buck Off Magazine is proud to share an interview with GennaRose Nethercott. We first met Ms. Nethercott when she worked her ‘Poems to Order’ booth at the 2016 Mass Poetry Festival (read about our time at MassPoeFest HERE) and are glad to share her story!
BOM: How did you get into poetry as a business?
Nethercott: I have a degree in poetry, and upon graduating from college, I decided to travel for a few months. I’m not proficient enough in a musical instrument to be able to busk traditionally, so I thought, “what could be my version of this– my way to support myself financially while on the road?” I developed my poems-to-order booth from there, designing it to be as compact and portable as possible. It was so successful that I ended up continuing on with it even after my travels, eventually honing the format so I could rely on it as my primary employment. The poetry stand, being such a public spectacle, garnered me enough visibility to bring other freelance jobs and connections, to the point where I eventually came to be a working poet full-time.
BOM: What are some of the hardships of being a poet by trade?
Nethercott: Like any freelance work, it’s not necessarily reliable, so there is always that hopscotching from job to job, which is naturally a financial strain. Plus, with the booth, it’s all entirely weather contingent and seasonal. Another challenge comes with balancing the work I do by commission with the writing I do for myself– after a long day of writing poems at others’ behest, often the last thing I want to do is to go home and work on my own projects. I’d rather drink a beer with friends or watch Buffy or do just about anything other than write. I get tapped out. But one big purpose of my commissioned work is to allow me the freedom to write my own projects, to say the things that I feel need to be said, after spending all day saying all the things others have asked me to say. So it’s important to make room for that.
BOM: What are some of the benefits?
Nethercott: There are so many! I make all my own hours and can work from anywhere. I have a job that allows me to be wildly creative. I get to sit out in the sun behind my typewriter and meet all sorts of people, which is such a rarity for a writer. As any writer knows, the weight of working in solitude glued to a laptop in a quiet room can get to you after a while. The fact that my poetry stand allows me to interact with other humans and be an active part of the outside world is vital and wonderful.
Perhaps the best part, though, is that people seem genuinely happier after spending time at my poetry booth. They find real meaning in the poems I write for them. I think of my poetry stand as a sort of mirror. A divinatory looking glass. I try to reflect back to people what they bring to me and then take that reflection one step further. I want the poems to speak not to what I believe, but what they believe. To act as a sort of Rorschach test, spitting back what they already, deep down, know to be true. It’s a splendid role to play– that of the fortune teller, the soothsayer.
BOM: It seemed like you didn’t need a lot of time to write poems on demand. How do you come up with poems for a wide range of topics?
Nethercott: It took me a lot longer to create a poem on-demand when I first started out, but after four or five years of this, my brain has grown accustomed to kicking into gear at a moment’s notice. It’s a muscle memory sort of thing. I try to let the prompts my customers give me lead the way and trust the paths they lead me down. It’s a totally different writing process than the one I follow when doing my own, non-commissioned work. When left to my own devices, I can spend an hour writing and rewriting a single line. But when a customer is waiting, I just have to leap off the diving board and hope for the best.
BOM: Are some poems easier for you to write than others?
Nethercott: I prefer topics that are strange and specific. I’ve written hundreds of poems on the age-old favorite generalities (love, friendship, nature, family, etc.). Those are all well and good, but if given the option, I always prefer a topic that is totally unique. I want to write about something I’ve never written about before. For example, I’ve been asked to write about broken glass; about a porcupine eating an apple; about ghosts trapped in mirrors; about selkies; about sex dolls; about ice cream trucks. I love these topics because I get to play and explore in a new way.
BOM: You do a lot of traveling. Where have you gone and what do you get to see when you’re working?
Nethercott: My poems-to-order booth has popped up in the US, Canada, Scotland, Norway, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and onwards. I definitely get to explore the places I go on-foot, but sitting behind the booth is actually a great way to get a sense of a place, too. It lets me engage with people who live there, and to be a fixture rather than a tourist. I’ve sort of begun using it as a litmus test for a city: if I set up somewhere and folks just walk on by without giving it a glance, chances are it isn’t a particularly artist-friendly community and not a place I’d like to live. If the booth does well and people are excited by it, then there’s a good chance that there’s a vibrant arts scene at play.
Nethercott: I started on an old Remington from the 1930s, but it was far too unwieldy to travel with, so I acquired the tiny Hermes Rocket when I set out on the road. However, it’s worth noting that I only use a typewriter for my poems-to-order booth. For any other writing project, I work on a MacBook. I’m 25. I was born in 1990. I’m a woman of my generation, and not as anachronistic as I might come across. The typewriter is great for poetry on demand because it allows me a have an immediate, tangible product to hand off to a customer. It’s a great tool of connection and aesthetic. When that isn’t a factor, though, I go for the laptop or write by hand.
BOM: Is being a traveling poet profitable or do you find yourself living the “starving artist” stereotype?
Nethercott: It’s fairly tight, but is profitable enough for me to pay the rent and live simply, which already is sort of a miracle. That said, I always have the classic “wealthy benefactor” fantasy lurking in the back of my mind, so if anyone out there has been itching to invest in a roving poetess, hell, I won’t stop you.
Check out GennaRose’s work online!