On Valentine's Day, if you were wandering the streets of Deep Ellum, it's possible you saw a woman plucking at a typewriter outside Twilite Lounge. A closer look would've told you that this woman was writing poems by request for total strangers.
Fatima-Ayan Malika Hirsi has been setting up her typewriter in the Bishop Arts District almost every weekend since last May. A longtime writer and poet, she'd already been publishing poems daily on her blog flowerwordspoetry.com, before she borrowed the idea from a friend living in Austin, who supports herself financially from her street poems. Hirsi's ventures haven't been quite that lucrative, but she's written hundreds of poems about everything from long lost love, Jesus or someone's favorite vegetable.
"I wrote a poem about a potato once," she laughs. "That was a funny one, but I incorporated references to Into the Wild so it came out alright."
The basic format is always the same. Someone will cautiously approach the typewriter and ask for a poem, then they pick a topic, or a person or an idea. Then Hirsi asks for one truth about the topic, and she might Google around for a minute or take observations from the interaction. She says the quality of the poem is almost always related to the quality of the connection she makes with the person.
"Most of the time people don't hold back at all," she says. "They know they're never going see me again, so they are just very open and honest."
There's no official price for each poem, Hirsi instead lets the recipient decide how much to pay, allowing people to be generous or pay whatever they can afford. It's not about the money for her, as a poetry teacher with the Writer's Garrett, it's just love of the craft and spreading poetry all over Dallas. Plus, as most of her friends and family know, Hirsi is likely to write poems to mark important events, or send congratulations.
"A friend just had a baby, so I wrote her poem," says Hirsi. "I write poetry all the time anyway, so I figure why not be out meeting people?"
You can find Hirsi after 6 p.m. most Friday and Saturday nights at the corner of Bishop and 7th behind her typewriter.