Mary Car­oline Whims per­forms street poetry at the Makers Market. Courtesy | Mary Car­oline Whims

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.”