Dylan Barmmer is a poet with a penchant for writing haikus, which happen to fit nicely on the blank index cards he carries around.
“Here, take one of these,” Barmmer says, sitting in front of E Street Café in Encinitas with a dozen or so cards fanned out in front of him. “These are random acts of poetry. Pick a card, any card. I've been handing these out like crazy.”
When Barmmer has time, he heads out to public places and gives his poetry to strangers. With a plastic jack-o'-lanteset up for tips and a sign that says “Feed the poet,” he sometimes manages to rake in a few bucks, but mostly he does it simply because he can.
“My motto is A.B.C.—always be creating,” Barmmer says. “And, a few years ago, all these different iterations started coming to me.”
In 2009, Barmmer got himself a high-definition video camera and the first thing he thought to do was record himself reading a poem. He started a YouTube channel (youtube.com/wordisborntv), painted a nice “Random Acts of Poetry” sign, which he holds up in front of the camera before every poem and has recorded 86 videos to date. The poems range from good and inspirational to bad and cheesy, but at least people are watching.
“I shot a haiku more recently in front of the ‘Surfing Madonna' mosaic, and that one got 1,200 views like that,” he says, snapping his fingers.
As Facebook became more popular, Barmmer found himself using it to distribute his videos. He started a “Random Acts of Poetry” Facebook group and began posting his haikus as status updates. In response to a post, one of his 1,700 fans jokingly called Barmmer the “Poet Laureate of Facebook” and an idea for a viral campaign was born. A former sports journalist and longtime advertising copywriter for his own creative agency, Word is born, Barmmer knows the basics of a marketing campaign.
“San Diego Man Anointed First Poet Laureate of Facebook,” reads the title of the official-looking press release Barmmer sent out last September. “Inventive poet and Word is born Raconteur Dylan Barmmer has been anointed the first-ever Poet Laureate of Facebook—by his own hand.”
No big media outlets took the bait, but nobody has really challenged the claim, either. Google “Facebook poet laureate” and Barmmer's press release is still the first hit. Barmmer says he's been using the “Poet Laureate of Facebook” title alongside his other pseudonym, “The Mad Yogi Poet”—a reference to his love of yoga.
“It's been interesting for me, especially in my mid-30s, to just stumble across this stuff,” Barmmer says. “There are so many things you can do with social media…. One of the coolest things about the Facebook thing is writing birthday poems. I look at the Facebook birthday notifications every day and send people poetry for their birthday.
“I have a couple different Twitter feeds,” Barmmer continues. “But I have a hard time getting engaged with Twitter. I always say a tweet is like a fart in an elevator shaft, it's like pffff—it's out there and then it's gone.”
The in-person version of Random Acts of Poetry is his newest creative incarnation. He says he recently handed a girl a piece about love—Don't be heartbroken / you know that thing's a muscle / tear it to build it—and she came back later to tell him how much it meant to her; she happened to be going through a rough breakup.
Barmmer appreciates the digital interface Facebook provides, but he says that kind of face-to-face interaction feels much more meaningful.
“These old mediums—like anything printed, performed and, especially, handwritten—I think it resonates so much more,” Barmmer says. “It's cool to play with all these online mediums, but there's still reason to blend the old and the new.”
Catch Dylan Barmmer in-person at the WORD event he hosts at E Street Café (128 W. E St. in Encinitas) every third Monday of the month or at The Poetry Ruckus at Ducky Waddle's Emporium (414 N. Coast Hwy. in Encinitas) from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17.
Ryan Hume does odd jobs to get by, but what he really wants to do is write poetry.
Problem is, fewer people are reading poems, which is why Hume is following the lead of young contemporaries like Steve Roggenbuck and Poncho Peligroso and using the internet to get his work in front of people.
“People aren't interested in poetry, so you have to shove shit in their faces,” Hume says, sitting at a sidewalk café in North Park. “I want to write poetry like Basquiat on the fucking side of Yog-art right there.” He points to a nearby yogurt shop. “That's something that I'm trying to do—inserting poems into library books, inserting poems by me into a Walt Whitman book at barnes & Noble. Whoever's buying Walt Whitman—fuck them. Let them read Ryan Hume.”
Hume takes a lot of his cues from Roggenbuck and Peligroso, two poets who experiment with new-media methods like using more visualized and stylized poetry, vlogs (video blogs), superimposing poems on random imagery (called “image macros”) and Google bombing (creating a large number of links that cause web pages to rank highly).
Peligroso, for example, recently named himself “2011 Poet Laureate of the Internet,” using Google bombing to drive his website to the top of search results. Earlier this year, Roggenbuck launched the Twitter hashtag #poetrybyemilydickinson and started work on a collaborative poetryremixing project that—again using Google bombing—was an attempt to get new poets' work in front of people who already appreciate the classics.
When it comes to the online possibilities of poetry, Hume is just getting started. On his blog, you'll find iconic “borrowed” images with a few minimalistic lines of his poetry. In one post, there's a picture of Joaquin Phoenix with the words “your availability” next to it and an embedded mp3 player with the song “Ebb Tide” by The Righteous Brothers. When viewed as a whole, the disjointed bits of information have a dramatic effect.
“This is the future; let's grab it,” Hume says. “Let's talk about Justin Bieber and Nicole Kidman and whatever. Let's utilize pop culture and run with it. It's fucking Andy Warhol-type shit. Let's fucking use this to our advantage. Let's not fucking pretend it's 200 years ago.”