The One Dollar Poem Guy at Robarts. Lisa Power/THE VARSITY

An interesting addition to the northeast corner of St. George and Harbord has recently set up shop, and it’s not a food truck. Nestled between the neatly lined trees and the red mailbox sits a poet. Taking a brief break from scribbling in his journal, Shawn DeSouza-Coelho quietly observes the campus’ activity throughout the day. For a loonie, he’ll write you a poem about anything. All proceeds go to the Daily Bread Food Bank. He is the ‘One Dollar Poem Guy.’

The One Dollar Poem Guy at Robarts. Lisa Power/THE VARSITY

The One Dollar Poem Guy at Robarts. Lisa Power/THE VARSITY

But DeSouza-Coelho is so much more than that: poet, actor, entertainer, writer, and above all, artist. When he’s not at his poetry stand, he works as a magician specializing in mind reading. He has written the novel MetaMagic: An Introduction and has another book on the way.

In April, DeSouza-Coelho will be hosting a TEDx Talk before gearing up to travel around southern Ontario with a theatre production. Originally from Toronto, he attended the University of Waterloo for his undergrad. Initially, he was to complete his graduate studies at U of T but instead opted to return to his alma mater. Now, he finds himself back at U of T and situated at the epicentre of the campus and offering words of inspiration during exam season.

The poetry stand

“I’ve been doing it since May of last year… I started off doing it on campus at Waterloo while I was doing my Master’s there. And from there I decided to take it to Toronto… I started at Robarts [in the] beginning of February… and one of the reasons I decided to do that was because I was trying to figure out a place in Toronto where there was still a lot of foot traffic in the winter… I’ve read about it in a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg… in that book she talks about practicing letting go of writing… basically the idea behind the poetry stand is that you write a little blurb and then you give it out to the world and then let it go… Because normally when we write something we hold onto it… our internal sense or our editor sort of goes into overdrive and we… don’t want to put it out into the world because we don’t think it’s finished… but it’ll never be finished.”

What DeSouza-Coelho writes about

“I initially started doing the stand to practice my prose but then 95 per cent of people started asking for poetry. So I quickly kind of fell into writing poetry… sometimes they’ll suggest things and sometimes I ask them if they want to suggest some thing…. it’s really just a matter of whatever hits me on the spot… I have a general idea of what I want my poems to be; a general image of what I think poetry should do and… it really amounts to taking or creating a space and then filling it with language, right? That’s what I try to do with all my poems… I try to create a space. Doesn’t matter what space it is. It could be on the patio at Starbucks. It could be on the moon, it could be on Pluto, wherever… it’s just about the practice of getting something out there or getting something on the page… when I did it at Waterloo I did it at a place called The Davis Centre. And that whole building is designed to look like a microchip. A lot of people got the juxtaposition of a person writing poetry inside of this technological vestige at the University of Waterloo.”

This interview has been condensed for clarity.   

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