A Penny for a Poem?


For many artists, it can be a grueling process: the search for a muse. But for Robert Samuel Snyderman, a 23-year-old poet who has lived in Bed-Stuy for the past five years, it comes easily–for a price.

“I ask for sources of inspiration, not topics,” said Snyderman, who was perched on a white bucket outside the gates of the Brooklyn Flea Saturday afternoon, sporting a cardboard sign that made his endeavor clear.

“Poems,” it said in black marker.

Snyderman, who is heading to Brown University in the fall to study poetry, began working as a street poet two years ago in Tompkins Square Park. Despite his donations-only rate, he has been living off his on-the-spot words since May. He usually writes somewhere around the Brooklyn Bridge, but Saturday was the second time he made an office on the sidewalk on Lafayette Avenue, his wild hair and light blue typewriter attracting more than one photographer.

Snyderman said that he eschews the pen-and-paper look favored by at least one cinematic street poet.

“To be honest, there’s a visual attraction to it,” he said of the typewriter, a loan from a friend. “I think a lot of the reason people come up to me is because of the typewriter.”

Yes, he acknowledged, it’s a bit of a gimmick. But he said over the years, it has come to feel natural, rather than performative. And setting up shop somewhere like the Flea–where there are fewer tourists than a more lucrative locale like Central Park–also keeps reins on the “really touristy” suggestions.

Still, Snyderman recalled one Central Park encounter with a man from Chile, who asked him to write a poem inspired by “Juan’s heart.” When he had finished reading Snyderman’s poem, the man asked him if it had been about strength.

“He said, ‘That’s good, because my son is Juan and he has a heart disease,'” Snyderman said. That was one instance, he added, that made him believe there’s an element of prophesy in what he does.

But it’s more difficult to feel inspired when someone asks for a poem about a banana peel.

“It’s very exerting,” he said. “There’s a lot of endurance it takes, and faith that a poem is going to come out.”


First-time Flea-goer Sharika Wirasekara gave Snyderman $7 to write her a poem about endurance, inspired by a friend who lived 15 years longer than doctors had predicted. Here’s what he came up with.

I came here
to life

from bright poison.

My feet
immediately demanded
more from
my inheritance, from
my blood, from your

Leak well,
blood. Leak well.
There is no time.

Robert Samuel Snyderman
Brooklyn, New York
June 19, 2010

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Photos and text by Kerri MacDonald, courtesy of The Local, sent by Annaliese.

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