Sunday, December 11, 2011

Remembering the Pa'ia Street Poet, Bill Keys

Bill Keys' old-fashioned typewriter.
At the corner of Baldwin Avenue and Hana Highway, by Milagro’s, Bill Keys was becoming a regular fixture.  Pa’ia was entering a new stage of quirkiness, with its very own street poet, a poet on demand, a hippie bard for the new millenium.  Bill kept a poetry booth in February and March this year, well before First Fridays in Pa'ia started to take off. Sitting at a folding table, the kind used for TV dinners, behind a handwritten sign, “Poems about anyone or anything – Donation,” Bill would type quickly, with his head bowed down or his face turned upward seeking inspiration.  His mini Corona typewriter with round keys was so compact, it was the techie equivalent to a big IBM typewriter as a slim netbook is to a big desktop HP or Dell computer.

Bill Keys at work.

Seeing Bill in action was a creative jolt. It reminded me of the passage in Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones, about “spontaneous writing booths” at festivals and fundraising events.  By the way, Natalie Goldberg’s book on writing is a classic for writers and aspiring writers.  Unlike Natalie though, Bill recorded his poems by taking a digital picture of each poem before giving it away.

When DH and I watched Bill the first time, a multi-generational family was surrounding him, while he read a poem about giving birth. The young couple in the group was expecting a baby.

Bill Keys pondering the next line.

A little later, I approached Bill to ask for a poem. The pretext I gave was that it was for a blog, but I didn’t have a blog yet, although I did have access to one geared toward tourists. But would the average Maui tourist find a street poet in Pa'ia noteworthy?  Poems on demand - how can they compete with information on beaches, restaurants, cheap car rentals and places to stay, or whale watching?  It takes a special person, and not just an ordinary tourist, to appreciate street poetry with a Maui flavor.

I asked Bill for a poem about Pa'ia.

It also takes a special town to appreciate street poems. Not Lahaina, because Bill tried Lahaina and they kicked him out after only 20 minutes.   Pa'ia was looking good for a few weeks, and then maybe Milagro’s or the Pa'ia Merchants’ Association or the Maui cops just got tired of having a street poet in their midst, especially one by way of Oregon.  

Last time I heard of Bill, he was holding a farewell poetry reading at Makawao Union Church, I think in early May. I didn’t attend, but I hope he had a good farewell attendance.  Maybe we’ll see him again, at some other Maui venue? With all the Maui Friday parties going on, a poetry booth would be a wonderful addition.

Side note: I just updated the post on jacked-up trucks, after meeting a very cool person with one in his yard.

Update 1/15/15: Bill has a Facebook Page, called Poems While You Wait. I already love it. 


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