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POP-UP: Poetry Therapy Clinic

The Pop-Up Poetry Therapy Clinic on Venice Boardwalk

Combining Todd's love of both poetry and public art, The Pop-Up Poetry Therapy Clinic invites passersby to take five minutes at the mic and tell Todd why they think there might be a poem in their life stories, essentially pitching themselves for a chance to get a professional poem written for them on his podcast, There's a Poem in That.

As a field unit, the highly versatile 8-foot-tall medical tent furthers TAPIT's mission of turning people's most intimate stories into poetry by framing poetry as medicine and bringing it to busy places not traditionally conducive to reading: fairs, boardwalks, conventions, and street corners... but it's also perfect for book festivals and libraries. The pop-up fulfills Todd's passion for making poetry more accessible to everyday people, an ambition that was first realized in the early 2000s with "Catch the Poetry Bug," his first-ever public art project for clients Magnetic Poetry and Volkswagen of America.

A bookfair-goer shares her story.

Poems are not written on the spot. Instead, participants are notified later if they've been selected for the podcast. Once selected, participants submit to as many as three hours of interview before their poem is written — a deep dive designed to build a collaborative spirit and a deeply empathic response from the poet. The completed poems, sometimes written by guest poets other than Todd, are meant to stand as great works of art.

Because it does not project or amplify sound, and because it has nothing to sell, the pop-up avoids many urban permit regulations for street busking or vending. Its small 5x5' footprint makes it a tidy addition to virtually any indoor or outdoor space. And it can be deployed by anyone handy with the basics of a smartphone's Voice Memo feature.

During its first weeks of operation, the pop-up visited a street fair in Santa Monica, a boardwalk in Venice Beach, a writer's conference in Kansas City, and a lakeside trail and a book festival in Austin.

The Pop-Up Poetry Therapy Clinic, shown activated in Los Angeles, Venice Beach, Austin, and Santa Monica.

 The term analysis is not exclusively applicable to the mental health field, of course. In his work as a clinical poet, Todd appears to be providing a personal literary analysis to his clients. Talk therapy is defined as treatment based in methods such as discussion, listening, and counseling. In his case, clients aren’t coming to Todd for treatment of mental, emotional, personality, or behavioral disorders. Instead, they’re expressly seeking what the podcast promises, “to discover the poetry in their most intimate stories,” and to that end, they are bringing Todd a problem. Todd is listening to and discussing the client’s problem by using modes of literary analysis: examining their text and their subtext, the metaphors they use, the symbols they gravitate toward, the way they frame the plots and subplots of their stories, and the details they use to depict their characters. 

— Dr. Jon Hallberg, MD

To bring the Pop-Up Poetry Therapy Clinic to your community, leave a message on the podcast's listener line: 808-300-0449, or email Todd by clicking the CONTACT button below.

This project brings a smile to the faces of all who encounter it, even as it challenges them to imagine their lives as poetic in some way. It's a free, simple, low-barrier way to engage folks around questions about the profound nature of their lived experiences. I'm grateful to all who stop and share with us.


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