Busker sells hand-typed poems in Harvard Square T stop

by Anna Buckley / Beacon Staff • February 19, 2014

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Freshman performing arts major Gabe Kittel, who busks at the Harvard Square T station, said that he makes at least $25 for every two hours he works.
Freshman performing arts major Gabe Kittel, who busks at the Harvard Square T station, said that he makes at least $25 for every two hours he works.

On a Sunday afternoon, as people milled around waiting for the next outbound train to enter the Harvard Square station, the faint tapping of a solitary typewriter echoed off the underground walls, breaking the silence. Where the sound originated, freshman Gabe Kittle sat, his tall frame hunched over the machine. Beside him laid a box filled with poetry booklets and some change, as well as a sign that read, “I sell poems for a living, donations accepted.”

“At the moment, I’m sort of into establishing myself as that guy at the Harvard Square T stop with the typewriter,” the theatre studies major said.

Kittle said that he began typing poems in the T station after returning from winter break this year, and he has made at least $25 during every two-hour session that he’s worked. Kittle originally got the idea to write poetry for donations from his friend back home in Santa Cruz, Cali., who paid his rent with his poetry-related earnings.

In a 10th grade English class, Kittle said he picked up Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Sitting at the back of the room, reading the poem instead of doing his class assignment, he discovered his first serious source of poetic inspiration. Nowadays, Kittle said he is influenced by Beat poets such as Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, Langston Hughes, and Slug, a rapper from Minnesota rap duo Atmosphere.

As a self-published poet and creative writing minor, Kittle said his style of writing is sporadic and incorporates a jazz structure, similar to Beat poetry. His style is reminiscent of Romanticism in that he muses over the beauty of the present moment, while his language is upbeat and lends itself to the spoken word style. He said that he often finds himself inspired by the idea of inspiration itself.

“I write about the infinite possibilities of imagination—how much creativity can do for the world,” he said.

While at the Harvard stop, Kittle sells bookmarks that he writes his spur-of-the-moment poetry on. One day on her way to work at PARK Restaurant & Bar in Cambridge, sophomore Nikki Stein spotted Kittle with his typewriter and said that she stopped to drop a few dollars into his donation box. Kittle gave her a poem about coping with the cold as a person who is so accustomed to warmth, as Kittle is from California. She said what struck her most about the poem was that it didn’t feel contrived, but honest.

“How often do you see someone hanging out with a typewriter, let alone someone with a typewriter in a T station?” the writing, literature and publishing major said. “It was just so awesomely anachronistic. It made me want to invest in a typewriter.”

Kittle said he also sells copies of his self-published chapbook, a poetry booklet that is folded and stapled, for upward of $5. Entitled Unfinished Thoughts, the collection consists of pieces from when he first began to write poetry, along with more recent works—all of which he describes as snapshots of where his mind was at that place and time. Kittle said that he prints them at the Print and Copy Center on campus and has made around 70 total.

A lot of interesting people have approached Kittle while busking, he said, from a homeless man who sat down next to him and began reciting haikus, to elderly folks who hear the sound of the typewriter and tell him stories laced with nostalgia. Some people tell him they have also sold poems on the street, others ask for a picture either of or with him, and he once got a request to write a poem about horses in winter.

Other Emerson students have also spotted Kittle while busking, including freshman Maggie Dunleavy, a member of the Emerson Poetry Project. Dunleavy said she was happy to run into him and to see him bringing poetry into such a public setting.

“I think it’s a really great thing to bring poetry into an unfamiliar context and make it accessible,” the performing arts major said. “Something little like that from a broke college kid is a great way of bringing it to the masses.”

Kittle said that he feels that poetry gets a bad rap sometimes due to the somewhat rigid poems that are taught in high school. By doing what he does in the T stop, he hopes to show people that poetry can truly be relatable.

“I feel like we just need to show people that poetry isn’t just sonnets and haikus and all about love and nature,” he said. “You can actually change things with words. Nobody else is going to get my voice out there for me, so I just have to go out and let people know how I feel, and maybe they feel the same way, or I at least spark something in them.”

Back home in Santa Cruz, Kittle said that he was involved with The Art Bar & Café, the world’s first arts and education “philanthropub” from which all proceeds go to supporting arts education for youth in the city. Kittle said that he is hoping to continue to use poetry as a means of bringing social change by starting an artistic collective with a fellow Emerson student, sophomore Sandrayati Fay. He also said that he plans to continue to self-publish more poetry collections until someone will publish them for him.

“Basically, I just want to try to change the world,” he said, “one poem at a time.”