You might see her on a sidewalk in the Bishop Arts District, sitting in front of a typewriter and clicking away as a curious and timid patron anticipates the poem to come. Fatima Hirsi crafts original poems for strangers she encounters on the streets. The topic of each poem is chosen by request, but must be paired with a “truth,” something honest and detailed about the customer, to give Hirsi a starting place.
Hirsi has always loved writing poetry, but never imagined it would become a career. She studied anthropology in school, and has found that writing poetry on the streets is a way for her to blend her love of people and culture with poetry. Poetry itself is anthropological at its base, Hirsi says. It’s about telling people’s stories, exactly what she strives to do with her typewriter.
Hirsi’s work as a typewriter poet offers her the chance to connect with people in a reciprocal way. If people are more vulnerable, then she can more easily craft a meaningful poem. It can be emotionally taxing, Hirsi says. As for payment, Fatima ask customers for a “mutual exchange,” meaning that each person pays what they felt the poetic experience was worth.
Beyond money, Hirsi believes that every encounter should be an exchange of “giving others what they give her.” Vague details will lead to a generic poem. But when a person opens up to her, Hirsi has the ability to create something genuine.
Hirsi, who has taught at the nonprofit Writer’s Garret, started the Dark Moon Poetry & Arts series in January 2016. Dark Moon spotlights local artists and offers a venue for people to have their work read and heard. The series has grown significantly from Hirsi’s living room, where it first took place. After time as a vagabond, Dark Moon has settled into a home at Deep Vellum Books. Now her events for poetry readings and spoken word performances are standing room only. She hopes to further expand the series this fall by incorporating workshops and film screenings.
Hirsi says finding a place for poetry in Dallas’ art scene is necessary to the community.
“It should impact someone and change the way they think, and not admire the pretty fluffy things in life, but attack things that matter,” she says. “It’s the reason… why censorship is an issue, because the most powerful thing we have is our words. There’s no action if there are not our words first.”
Hirsi is working on a project with SMU and filling her schedule with private events and parties, where she is commissioned to create poems for guests. An upcoming chapbook, Moon Woman, will be published late this year by Thoughtcrime Press.