A way with words: Travelling street poet stops in Toronto
Tania Panes, a street poet from Spain, tries her luck in Toronto. (@Tania.Panes/Instagram)
On Saturday night Tania Panés sat on the street in the Queen West neighbourhood with a 1943 Hermes Baby typewriter, a table and a sign that says: Poetry on the Spot.
The 27-year-old from Madrid, Spain has been travelling for eight months and her latest stop is Toronto. She lives off the money she makes writing poetry for strangers, who come up to her to chat, learn about her story and get a personalized typewritten piece.
In exchange for her words, she is paid whatever the person decides -- however they value the poetry.
“It’s whatever you think it’s worth. It’s whatever you can. It’s whatever you feel like. I’m not going to tell you that. You have to think about it,” she says. “Be responsible for once and try to value something instead of the external part telling you ‘This is this,’ and ‘This is that.’”
Panés has set up her tiny station around the city, working mostly nights from around 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. since she arrived last week. She writes in Spanish and English.
She says Kensington Market reminds her of Sundays in Madrid. “Because we have a very big market, too,” she says. “That’s a place I always go to write. Sunday market, full of people everywhere. It was like being home.”
Her most memorable experience was while she sat on the street in the Queen West neighbourhood during one her night shifts. She says a woman was sitting in the park reading for about three hours before approaching her.
“She came to me and she was really emotional,” Panés says. “She started crying when she started talking to me.”
The woman, who Panés says seemed like she was around 19-years-old, asked her to write a poem triggered by the word ‘solitude.’
The woman told Panés she had allowed herself to be alone for the first time and was beginning to accept it.
“She told me a bit about her life and about problems she was having lately. We were just talking for a long time,” says Panés. “I told her about my experience, being a woman travelling alone. It really helped her. She loved the poem. She left so happy, feeling great. The poem is like a new energy. It was really beautiful to see that.”
Becoming a poet
Panés started writing improvised poetry when she was 24-years-old. She attended university in her hometown of Madrid and then went to Paris to complete her final year of art history.
Panés met a street poet named Antoine Berard in 2012 while her brother, Alejandro Panés, was visiting her in Paris. When her brother got back to Madrid, she says he bought a typewriter and started writing.
Alejandro founded a group called Momento Verso. He was later joined by Panés and another Spanish street poet, named Maria Helena del Pino.
Panés says there’s no direct translation of Momento Verso, but it’s “kind of like ‘a verse in the moment.’”
“This is not something that belongs to anybody,” Panés says. “The activity itself is really universal. Everybody’s invited to do it.”
She says it’s a way to approach poetry from a different perspective by removing the poet from a solitary room where “poets always write.”
“That’s why we go out and we let people approach us,” she says. “People who are interested. They give us a topic; we talk with them. We read their energy. It’s like an exchange of information.”
Panés says after the poem is typed, she reads it to the person and they decide how much it’s worth.
“This way it’s available for everybody, but at the same time we’re making them responsible for how they value things,” Panés says.
Panés has been a street poet for two years, but only began travelling in the past eight months. She started in San Francisco, California at the end of September 2015. She visited Nevada, Arizona, Mexico, the Caribbean for a few months, and then on to New Orleans, Louisiana.
She says she stayed in New Orleans for two and a half months, making enough money from her poetry to rent a room instead of couch surfing, staying at a hostel or a friend’s place -- which she normally does.
“There,” Panés says, “there was a big community of street poets. They have a lot of buskers.”
Leaving an impression on Toronto
Last Sunday, she arrived in Toronto. As well as writing on the street, she says she enjoyed the beaches and the city. She says she loves being near the water.
On Friday night, she was setting up in Queen West around 9:30 p.m. A group of friends walked by, intrigued by the woman in a big hat who was pulling a typewriter out of her bag.
Toronto resident Afifa Sarwari, 30, says she wasn’t sure what Panés was doing at first.
“We saw the typewriter and that kind of got us to start looking and ask questions,” she says. “And then when she took out the sign. It said ‘poetry’ and we thought this was fantastic. Poetry on a typewriter! That’s what drew us in.”
Sarwari says she chose the term ‘soul friends’ for Panés to write about because it was the best way to describe the group she was with that night.
After it was written, Panés read it out loud: “Sometimes shadows get together mixing up their darkness to create light, inexplicable connection, dunes moving from land to land…”
Sarwari says the experience was magical. “I like that it was personalized poetry,” she says. “It’s nice when people play music or do other things -- but this was personal. It felt really authentic. It felt like she wanted to do it because it made her happy.”
Panés is leaving Toronto on Sunday and says she will continue exploring Canada and writing poetry wherever she goes.
Two days ago a woman walking by Panés in Toronto asked her to write about she she sees. The last verse reads: “And I see, that the world needs more poetry.”