Who knew the words of a stranger could be some of the most intimate? On a summer day in Traverse City, passersby let the T.C. Street Poet craft their vulnerabilities into touching poems. Though she kept her identity a secret that day, she happens to be one of Hillsdale’s very own.
Senior Mary Caroline Whims sold street poetry this summer after gaining experience writing and publishing her own poetry. She said after reading about street poets online, she decided to try becoming one.
“I liked the idea of writing poetry for a complete stranger,” she said. “I thought it could push me. I tend to be a perfectionist, so I was fascinated by the thought of, ‘What if I just wrote something? Especially something that somebody else needed?’”
Whims set up a table on a street in Downtown Traverse City with a sign that said ‘T.C. Street Poet: your poem, your subject.’ After setting out a jar, she waited for her first customer.
“I had my first customer and she asked me to write something about her struggles with addiction,” she said. “I was definitely kind of wowed by that. How could I write a poem about that kind of topic?”
Despite not knowing her, Whims said her customers that day seemed to really trust her with their stories.
“Sometimes I think it’s easier to trust someone you’ve never met before, because they have no way to pass judgement on you,” she said.
After the day was over, Whims came home with orders and eventually ended up mailing the poems to those customers.
Although street poetry is very different from her previous experiences writing and publishing poetry, she said she could see herself trying it again in the future.
“Sometimes it sort of feels like you just send it out into the void and think, ‘Oh, I hope someone will read that somewhere. I hope it means something to them,’” she said. “It’s a very different feeling entirely to look someone in the eyes and write something that’s just for them that they asked you to write that they felt would be important to them in some way. I had people cry in front of me just down the street in Traverse City and I was very humbled by that.”
Aside from doing street poetry, Whims also writes personal poems in her free time.
“I write stuff about love, and faith, and friendship, even. Just images that strike me or something beautiful I see,” she said. “A lot of times they tend to be about something I’m working through in the moment and in my own mind.”
Whims also said she has published a few of her own poems in magazines, including “First Things”. She also has an Instagram page where she uploads her poetry, and said she hopes to publish a book of her poems one day.
Through her poetry, Whims has touched the hearts of many, including those of junior Chloe Kersey and Hannah Socolofsky Schneider ’19.
Kersey, one of Whims’ customers, said Whims wrote her a poem about a significant moment between her and her boyfriend.
“Her ability to perfectly envision what happened in that moment and how I felt in that moment even though she wasn’t there was really impressive to me,” Kersey said. “She was able to incredibly eloquently describe that event that meant so much to me in incredible detail as if she were present.”
Schneider said she met Whims when she helped her work on her poems for Fool’s Talk a few years ago. She said she had always been impressed by Whims’ poetic abilities.
“She is a very thoughtful and sensitive writer,” Socolofsky said in a phone interview. “She has a way of perceiving emotional subtleties in the world around her that take her poetry to a deeper level that most amateur poets struggle to access.”
Whims said aspiring poets should find community with other poets, take advantage of writing contests, and above all simply enjoy writing.
“It’s a gift,” she said. “It’s a thing you can come back to in your life that will help sustain you and maybe even be a way you can bless others.”