Does he ever have a two-for-one sale on couplets?

Here’s a great slice of American ingenuity for you, the one-man Poem Store:

Zach Houston runs his Poem Store (on any given sidewalk) with these items: a manual typewriter, a wooden folding chair, scraps of paper, and a white poster board that reads: “POEMS — Your Topic, Your Price.”

Houston usually gets from $2 to $20 for a poem, he says. He’s received a $100 bill more than once. The Oakland, Calif., resident has been composing spontaneous street poems in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2005. Five years ago, it became his main source of income.

“I quit my last conventional job on April Fools’ Day, 2007,” says Houston, 29. “They didn’t believe me, because I said I was going to write poems, on the street, with a typewriter — for money.” It was no April Fools’ joke.

On most Saturdays, you can find Houston at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Passersby eye his sign and watch intently as Houston types away on his Swiss-made, green 1968 Hermes Rocket.

“Straight out of Switzerland, man,” Houston says. “And it’s my purse full of language. I love it.”

A woman visiting from Olympia, Wash., gives Houston three ideas for her poem: spring break; road trip; and Olympia. Houston starts typing away immediately. In roughly 60 seconds, he pulls out the small, asymmetrical piece of white paper from the typewriter and reads it aloud:

“Where the Greek gods live with history and trees
protecting patience of rainforest
where it doesn’t rain
simmers, fog, moisture
worship her, mother nature, newly wed
every year to visit a season
is called spring
forever returning to its source”

“I’ve always loved poetry. I’ve always cared about how language works,” Houston says.

His mother claims that Houston carried a dictionary around when he was little. But even though he loves writing poems, his motivation wasn’t “bringing poetry to the world,” Houston says. Rather, he thought, “I love writing poems. I bet I could make a few dollars and survive off of writing poems.”

“Believe it or not, it’s not totally a reliable income. Who knew?” he says with a laugh.

Check out the rest, including the audio report from NPR.


  1. pagansister says:

    That is fantastic! What a creative young man—who had the courage to give his idea a chance—and seems to be successful at it! :o)

  2. “worship her, mother nature, newly wed
    every year to visit a season
    is called spring
    forever returning to its source”

    Yuck. I wouldn’t pay 50 cents for that poetry.

  3. midwestlady says:

    I like this, all except for what looks like a typewriter. And then for $20, maybe you don’t get emailed poetry.

  4. “Does he ever have a two-for-one sale on couplets?” No, but if he gets charged a permit fee he might have to have a price haiku.

  5. Roses are red
    violets are blue.
    I can make up rhymes
    so can he.

  6. I don’t know if you can make a living this way, but good for him. We see people singing, playing instruments..why not poems? You don’t have to think he’s Robert Browning. He’s working and not sitting on the couch.

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