Mark Niehus sits out front of Zedz Cafe in Adelaide Central Market for a few hours each week, drinking coffee and writing poems for passers-by on a typewriter. It’s all part of the Cafe Poet Program. “Poetry is not dead,” Mark says, “it just needs to be relevant and more accessible to the public.” Is it possible that in a world of social media, nonstop advertising and relentless spin the humble poet is making a comeback? Mark hopes so. So do I.
The Cafe Poet Program is a great idea. How did you come to be involved?
A friend of mine mentioned the program to me. She had seen me at the Central Market writing and said I that I should go for it as you can get free coffee while you write.
What kind of stuff inspires you? Do you find certain themes or subjects recur in your poems?
My subjects are vast and varied, the moods range from manic to solemn… Love, lust and beauty, the mechanics of human behaviour, that sort of thing. Dogs, Monkeys, fire and hurricanes pop up pretty regularly.
Is there something about working at a post office that’s great for writing poetry?
Well I quit about two months ago, that was great.
How is using a typewriter important to your work?
I use it mainly when I’m busking at the Central Market, no power required, instant print out and a nice aesthetic.
Who are your favourite poets? And writers generally?
Ernest Hemingway, Jim Carroll, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Jack Micheline, Henry Miller.
What do you make of poetry’s place in our culture? Has it changed over time?
Our cultural capital is made up of so many things, in this art is generally undervalued. The value of any art form is in its relevance and ability to help us to understand the nature of the human condition.
Poetry’s place in our culture has changed, it was once more highly regarded as a profession. It seemed to shift when rock music turned literary in the early 60s and you suddenly had a mass medium that could provide poetics that resonated with youth culture and provided a relevant commentary to their lives. No longer did you need to seek out a book, you could just turn on the radio.
How would you explain its value to someone who maybe hasn’t read any poetry since they were forced to at school?
Unfortunately poetry is generally perceived as a sentimental and overly romantic art that is out of reach of the person on the street. Poetry is not dead, it just needs to be relevant and more accessible to the public.
How is Adelaide as a home for a poet?
I think the most important thing any place can provide a poet is a lifestyle that allows them the time to write. You can be in the most inspiring city in the world, but if you are broke with no support system priorities shift pretty quickly.
How many poets does it take to change a light bulb?
That depends on what you want to change it into?
Nice. I was going to say, “Depends. Will there be wine?”
You previously had a career overseas as a designer? Do you ever miss any aspects of your “old” life?
Yeah the money.
How can people check out more of your work?
(Thanks to Sarah Rhodes who spotted the “busking poet” and returned to the office with a tip-off and a business card for me to check out.)