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Q&O: A Conversation with Poet-O, the Poet Laureate of Central Park

I was sitting on a ledge in between two street vendors at the southeast corner of 53rd street and 6th avenue. An old man with a cane in one hand and a plastic bag in the other hobbled over and sat down next to me. He asked me what I was selling, and I replied that I wasn’t selling, just sitting. After we talked for a while he reached into his plastic bag, pulled out a piece of paper with some scribbled writing on it and asked me if I liked poetry. My answer was that it depended on the poetry. He looked at me, shook my hand and introduced himself as Poet-O, The World Famous Poet Laureate of Central Park.

I worked less than a block away from where Poet-O lived and would stop by a few times a week to keep him company and talk. For most of his life, he lived on and around the streets of New York City and walked through Central Park reciting his poetry to anyone who would listen. If someone bought a copy of one of his poems for a dollar, that person got to ring his bell and make a wish. He did this for many years, but when I met him, he was nearly blind and no longer physically able to roam the streets and write his poetry. So when I visited, he would recite new poems on the spot and I would write them down for him. In addition to his physical ailments, Poet-O, was also diagnosed at a relatively early age with paranoid schizophrenia. While listening to his stories, it was always hard to gauge what was the truth, and what was delusion. At some point I gave up trying to evaluate what I was hearing and just decided to listen.