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Sep 23, 2019

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This Is Uncomfortable

When the going gets rough, some sell poems

Marlena Chertock Sep 15, 2014
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As D.C. commuters head to their offices, jazz drummer Glenn Ragland stands outside Metro stations. He’s not hawking newspapers, or music. He’s selling poems.

These days, Ragland has been finding it near impossible to make money in the music industry.

“I’m not making no money,” he said. “The band business is gone. There’s no big bands. The few night clubs, they don’t want to pay musicians anything.”

So for the past seven months, he’s been standing at any of a number of the corners in the nation’s capital — 13th and G Street, Connecticut and K Street, Connecticut and L Street or Connecticut and I Street, from about 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., trying to sell love poems.

He says he’ll write about anything, though his sign advertises: “Poetry for love and romance $5 a poem.” At first, he simply wanted a sign that said “poetry for $5,” but he said his friend who printed the sign added romance to the mix.

“I just wanted to put ‘poems’ and ‘jazz’ in there, and he put that word ‘romance’ in there. And that changed the whole thing,” he said. “It changed the mood of selling poems.”

After he gets a request, he says he might work on a poem for a day or a week. He then finds the buyer later at the same Metro station.

Ragland isn’t new to writing. He started writing poetry in Paris when he was 26 and in a band. He also penned “Jazz Profiles in Paris,” a 1995 book that didn’t make him much money. He sometimes manages to sell six or seven poems a day for $120 total.

He’s working on another book, this time full of poems about passion and intimacy. He calls it “almost too intimate to publish.”

If he’s not trying to sell poems on the street or teaching drum lessons, Ragland can probably be found at Washington’s well-known eatery and poetry hangout Busboys and Poets. He likes surrounding himself with writers and artistically-inclined people.

“I like to meet people that write because your imagination is more extensive,” he said. “Sometimes at 11:30 at night, 1 o’clock in the morning, an idea comes to me. I get up and get a pen and paper and sometimes I continue working on a poem the next day. And sometimes I forget about it.”

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