Pennies for her thoughts

Tara Borgilt wants to write a poem for you on her typewriter, about anything you want, for any price you want.

On sunny days, the Ashland High School senior sets up a mobile poetry store in Lithia Park, writing poems on a 1950s typewriter using prompts from strangers.

"Your poem, your price," reads the sign on her typewriter case.

"I'm sending my poems out to who knows where," said Borgilt, 18. "It just feels good to get them out."

After taking a few minutes to write a poem, she hands the only copy to the customer.

"Sometimes that's the sad part, but it's also one of the best parts, because the person gets it, the one and only copy," she said.

Passersby have paid between $1 and $5 for her poems, which are typically half a page long and sometimes written on painted paper she recycled from a high school art class.

The exercise is more about making a connection with strangers than collecting money, Borgilt said.

"I do it for the unlikely connection with people who you would normally just smile at on the street as you passed, and that would be the end of it," she said. "This has taught me how little it takes for people to open up to each other. It's one of the most fulfilling things I've done."

She's saving the money she earns for next year, when she plans to travel to Spain and perhaps work on an organic farm.

The following year, she will attend Reed College in Portland, which has accepted her and allowed her to defer her enrollment for a year.

On Friday, Ashland resident Zach Davis stopped by the Poetry Store to request a poem "about the lifecycle of water."

"I saw this was the Poetry Store and I thought I'd go shopping," he said.

The poem was for his eight-year-old son, who was interested in the process of evaporation and condensation as a younger child, he said.

"I'm a good poetry fan," Davis said. "There are some uses of words that can really connect with people and what it means to be human."

Borgilt took a few minutes to type the poem on blue-painted paper and then asked Davis if she could read it to him.

"It begins in the black well / where your dreams / crawl from their skins into your / skull "…" she read.

Borgilt began writing public poems in August 2010, after buying her typewriter for $25 from a Medford thrift store.

"I like typewriters because you can see what's happening," she said. "It's all right out before you and it's very textural and I like the sound. It's almost like a character itself."

She got the idea from Jacqueline Suskin, who writes poems on a typewriter at the farmer's market in Arcata, Calif. Suskin wrote a poem for Borgilt about "self" that used a metaphor of a saffron bloom when Borgilt visited Arcata in October 2009, with the high school's Wilderness Charter School.

Borgilt began seriously writing poetry in eighth grade and for the entire year of 2008 she wrote a poem a day, which taught her to free-write quickly, without going back and editing.

"When I start out, I kind of wonder where I'm going and hopefully by the end I've reached somewhere," she said.

She has received a range of requests from customers. One woman asked for a poem about "Ascended Master Saint Germain." A little girl asked for a poem about "a little girl who loves her daddy very, very much," and then the girl read the poem to her father, Borgilt said. Many people request poems about someone else, and then give the poems to the person as a gift, she said.

"That feels really good, to write poetry as a gift to someone, who sometimes I haven't even seen." Borgilt said.

She intends to keep writing and to bring her typewriter with her on her travels, she said.

"I want to do more of this," Borgilt said. "I'd like to definitely go to San Francisco and do this this summer. And it'd be amazing to do this in Spanish."

Until then, expect to see her typing in the park on weekends or after school and downtown at First Friday's ArtWalk.

"This is definitely something I see myself doing for awhile," she said. "This is just the beginning. This is just trying it out."

For more information on Borgilt and her poetry, e-mail her at

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or

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