Camille Taylor fidgeted on the downtown Plaza for a minute or two while Marshall James Kavanaugh typed away on an old Smith-Corona typewriter perched on a TV tray table nearby. The 32-year-old Taylor, an attorney who has worked with troubled youth in Chicago, had just decided to quit her job and relocate to Denver with no work prospects in store.
She was looking for a sign to tell her that she was making the right decision. Kavanaugh gave it to her in the form of a poem.
“It’s all a part of the adventure,” the poem read. “The way each day we find something new about ourselves that changes the narrative.”
Taylor left, happier for the experience and more confident about her life choice.
Taos resident Kavanaugh, 30, calls himself a Dream Poet. You pick the topic and, for a donation, he’ll write you a poem. He whips up his literary gifts in two to five minutes, sometimes adopting a hunt-and-peck approach on the typewriter. Then he reads his on-the-spot pieces aloud, transforming into an actor performing a personal composition for an audience of one.
Most weekends you can find him sitting at his small table on the Plaza in either Santa Fe or Taos. He wears an old straw hat with some feathers stuck in the hatband, a Tom Sawyer-like touch that speaks to a man of another time. The typewriter, dating to the early 1960s and further marking him as a figure of the past, was something he picked up for $70 in an estate sale years ago.
“It holds a lot of magic,” he said, running his fingers over the machine. “Some of the greatest novels were written on this machine. It reminds me of being a jazz poet. There’s a beat to the typing.”
The New Jersey native has been typing to this beat since he was in high school, inspired by the writings of Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac. He later studied English literature at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.
He recalls his early efforts at writing poetry as being full of “lots of angst, lots of emotion.”
Then he began reading his work aloud, and that made all the difference.
“It gave me a space to be free with it,” he said. “I realized I wrote too much.”
Since his graduation day nearly a decade ago, he’s basically done nothing but travel, write, perform poetry and create word dreams on quarter-size note cards for strangers looking for something — a direction or an answer, perhaps.
A Santa Fe woman of a certain age stopped by his table on a recent weekday afternoon.
“On being 77,” she said softly, and he began to type.
The woman would not share her name or her poem, but said Kavanaugh’s offer to create a poem built around an idea or theme inspired her.
“I’ve lived by words and images,” she said. “I love his typewriter. I love his idea.”
She loved what he wrote, too, so she stuck a $10 bill into his hand and left smiling.
Kavanaugh said the woman is typical of the people of all ages who stop by to talk with him and ask for a poem. Love is the most requested topic, he said. Right behind love is dogs, and then cats. Travel is high on the list too, “because people are on the road, and they stop in Santa Fe.”
He travels, too, along the East Coast, the West Coast, anywhere there are poetry cafes and inviting places to write and perform. The Dream Poet said he planned to set up shop on the Plaza during this weekend’s Fiesta activities. He plans to be there again next weekend. After that, he might be back up in Taos or out at Big Sur or in some cafe in Philadelphia for a while.
He can do that because he’s free to follow his muse, he said.
“There’s not a structure to follow.”
Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the web
• Learn more about the Dream Poet, 30-year-old Marshall James Kavanaugh of Taos, at www.marshalljameskavanaugh.com.