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The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America

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From award-winning writer and poet Brian Sonia-Wallace comes this heartrending collection of literary essays that explore America’s crumbling institutions and ultimately reveal the humanity that emerges at the margins. In this collection of thematically and geographically linked essays, Brian Sonia-Wallace—a keen observer of the human condition and a poetry evangelist—trave From award-winning writer and poet Brian Sonia-Wallace comes this heartrending collection of literary essays that explore America’s crumbling institutions and ultimately reveal the humanity that emerges at the margins. In this collection of thematically and geographically linked essays, Brian Sonia-Wallace—a keen observer of the human condition and a poetry evangelist—travels across the US armed with only a typewriter to write poetry for strangers as he attempts to celebrate, eulogize, and potentially restore some of the most ubiquitous staples of Americana: the transcontinental railroad, the shopping mall, and music festivals, to name just a few. On his remarkable journey, Brian connects with fascinating American characters—those not typically covered by the mainstream media, but who instead connect with the readers of J.D. Vance, Robert Moor, and Rick Bragg. By capturing and linking these individuals and their stories through the poems Brian writes for them, Dust Bowl Nation speaks to our times and to an increasingly larger part of our populace who yearns to understand our changing cultural landscape. Thought-provoking, moving, and eye-opening, Dust Bowl Nation is an unforgettable, masterful work—by one of our most important voices today—that gives readers a compelling, unvarnished view of America…one that is rarely seen. 


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From award-winning writer and poet Brian Sonia-Wallace comes this heartrending collection of literary essays that explore America’s crumbling institutions and ultimately reveal the humanity that emerges at the margins. In this collection of thematically and geographically linked essays, Brian Sonia-Wallace—a keen observer of the human condition and a poetry evangelist—trave From award-winning writer and poet Brian Sonia-Wallace comes this heartrending collection of literary essays that explore America’s crumbling institutions and ultimately reveal the humanity that emerges at the margins. In this collection of thematically and geographically linked essays, Brian Sonia-Wallace—a keen observer of the human condition and a poetry evangelist—travels across the US armed with only a typewriter to write poetry for strangers as he attempts to celebrate, eulogize, and potentially restore some of the most ubiquitous staples of Americana: the transcontinental railroad, the shopping mall, and music festivals, to name just a few. On his remarkable journey, Brian connects with fascinating American characters—those not typically covered by the mainstream media, but who instead connect with the readers of J.D. Vance, Robert Moor, and Rick Bragg. By capturing and linking these individuals and their stories through the poems Brian writes for them, Dust Bowl Nation speaks to our times and to an increasingly larger part of our populace who yearns to understand our changing cultural landscape. Thought-provoking, moving, and eye-opening, Dust Bowl Nation is an unforgettable, masterful work—by one of our most important voices today—that gives readers a compelling, unvarnished view of America…one that is rarely seen. 

30 review for The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    We follow the author as he traveled across America as a rent-a-poet. He started writing poems with a type writer on the streets of Los Angeles area trying to pay his bills. He wrote poems for strangers on the Amtrak. He wrote poems at the Mall of America. It's interesting to hear stories from strangers across the country. He wrote poems at wedding and at corporate events (I didn't know this was a thing). Some stories were more interesting than others.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Mcconkey

    I have never read a book of poetry like this one...or actually any book like this one. It is so human, so everyday (well, not all the chapters are "everyday"), so down-to-earth, while also being insightful. I enjoyed it very much. The range of experiences Brian Sonia-Wallace relates are all fascinating...I couldn't put it down once I started. How does one book tell such diverse stories? Funny, terrifying, sad. I was going to pick some favorites, but by the end of each one, I wasn't judging anymo I have never read a book of poetry like this one...or actually any book like this one. It is so human, so everyday (well, not all the chapters are "everyday"), so down-to-earth, while also being insightful. I enjoyed it very much. The range of experiences Brian Sonia-Wallace relates are all fascinating...I couldn't put it down once I started. How does one book tell such diverse stories? Funny, terrifying, sad. I was going to pick some favorites, but by the end of each one, I wasn't judging anymore. I guess this really isn't a book OF poetry, but it is ABOUT poetry...the poetry of experience, of being alive, if you pay attention. I even find myself composing little couplets in my head in response to just anything. I hope that doesn't wear off.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dana DesJardins

    Poet Brian Sonia-Wallace is part performance artist and part therapist, listening to people he encounters on trains, in the Mall of America, at an epic EDM festival, or in the beauty department of a department store. Since 2012, he has written poems for strangers in thirteen states and three countries, and he finds ways to connect with everyone, often eliciting tears from grateful recipients of his poems. As he travels, he reflects on how the individual people he meets fit into the larger Americ Poet Brian Sonia-Wallace is part performance artist and part therapist, listening to people he encounters on trains, in the Mall of America, at an epic EDM festival, or in the beauty department of a department store. Since 2012, he has written poems for strangers in thirteen states and three countries, and he finds ways to connect with everyone, often eliciting tears from grateful recipients of his poems. As he travels, he reflects on how the individual people he meets fit into the larger American narrative, taking the pulse of this changing nation, from evangelicals to trans people to Wiccans, always with an open heart and mind. This is a humble man's reflection on his unique perspective. "Who is the appropriate person to tell what story?" he wonders. Sonia-Wallace gives not only an ear but also a voice to people who don't often feel heard. He asserts, "This vision is about writing as connection -- poetry as a service industry ... Poetry is the shortest distance between feeling and expression." In his role as witness and reporter, Sonia-Wallace is compassionate and informative, but I wish he had been more reflective about how he was able to open his heart day after day in city after city. The book read more like a travelogue than an autobiography. He is often almost painfully honest, but I think his book does not live up to to its subtitle: "What I Learned Traveling American with a Typewriter." Sonia-Wallace met fascinating people, who keep framed copies of his street poems on their walls and often stay in touch with him for years. This is a testament to the value of his work. He asserts, "Perhaps it is the duty we have as citizens of the world. To show up for strangers until they are not strangers anymore."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sydney

    Thank you so much to Harper Perennial for my gifted copy of The Poetry of Strangers! I loved following the author on his journey writing poetry for anyone who gave him a topic! This is a book ABOUT poetry and the human experience rather than a book OF poetry. I thought it was fascinating how strangers would open up so much to someone behind a typewriter. From weddings to the Mall of America to an EDM festival, Brian Sonia-Wallace provides a unique experience to countless people (including some w Thank you so much to Harper Perennial for my gifted copy of The Poetry of Strangers! I loved following the author on his journey writing poetry for anyone who gave him a topic! This is a book ABOUT poetry and the human experience rather than a book OF poetry. I thought it was fascinating how strangers would open up so much to someone behind a typewriter. From weddings to the Mall of America to an EDM festival, Brian Sonia-Wallace provides a unique experience to countless people (including some witches!). I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful book of literary essays and poems.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steven P

    An insightful series of essays, laced with poems, about the common human condition. An ultimately uplifting and hopeful narrative about what makes us all human - the need to connect and tell our personal stories - and how strangers share their innermost thoughts with a stranger behind a manual typewriter. An engaging read during our COVID days.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alice (MTB/Alice Tied The Bookish Knot)

    Listened to the audiobook via BookBeat UK! This was such an uplifting and also tricky listen to have experienced. Brian is a spoken word artist and travelling across America is inspired by everything, whether it is people, places or purposes. His writing takes off after securing a residency at the Mall of America and working on poetry writing workshops and helping others to find their true, emotional voice even after all their personal life experiences that they may have faced (death of a loved o Listened to the audiobook via BookBeat UK! This was such an uplifting and also tricky listen to have experienced. Brian is a spoken word artist and travelling across America is inspired by everything, whether it is people, places or purposes. His writing takes off after securing a residency at the Mall of America and working on poetry writing workshops and helping others to find their true, emotional voice even after all their personal life experiences that they may have faced (death of a loved one, victim of crime etc) I really recommend it and quite surprised this hasn't gotten much buzz yet.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Connie Hall

    Brian Sonia-Wallace managed to actually bring hope and joy into my world with this book; no easy task right now. His experiences with people all over the country (and the world) have revived my hope for humanity. I highly recommend that everyone read this - it is the perfect antidote to covid isolation.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

    A life affirming book. This is a quiet masterpiece. It is a life affirming and life changing book. It is a manual on how to be a human being. Read it and save your soul.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Langhals

    Really fun book that rebuilds the idea of human centered interactions. Wonderful stories of people living their everyday lives and how impactful small moments of exchange can be. Take some time to speak with a stranger; who knows how much it can help them (or you) to learn something new or discover something about yourself.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Beamer

    I picked this book up on a whim with no prior knowledge about it, and I'm so glad I did. This is one of the most well-written personal narratives I've come across in a long time, especially on the topic of authorship. Brian both takes himself seriously as a writer, and acknowledges his place as a novice beginner searching for a way to live through making art. The journeys he goes on become more wild throughout the course of the book, almost to the point where I found it hard to believe it was re I picked this book up on a whim with no prior knowledge about it, and I'm so glad I did. This is one of the most well-written personal narratives I've come across in a long time, especially on the topic of authorship. Brian both takes himself seriously as a writer, and acknowledges his place as a novice beginner searching for a way to live through making art. The journeys he goes on become more wild throughout the course of the book, almost to the point where I found it hard to believe it was real. Not only was his story full of excitement, but his writing style is conversational. Reading this book is like sharing a memory with a friend, with pieces of truth about life sprinkled throughout. This is a story that will stick with me for a long time, and one I know I will revisit many times over when I'm searching for a little inspiration to keep writing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anne Yale

    Spoiler alert: have a box of tissues handy! Brian Sonia-Wallace will masterfully tug at your heart strings. I wouldn't have expected to have such visceral emotional reactions to a book of essays, but nonetheless, here we are. The essays are so well-rendered that they make the reader ache. While it's clear that Brian makes a personal connection to each of the many people he talks to, what becomes even clearer as we read is that we make that connection, too, as Brian puts us in the room, or on the Spoiler alert: have a box of tissues handy! Brian Sonia-Wallace will masterfully tug at your heart strings. I wouldn't have expected to have such visceral emotional reactions to a book of essays, but nonetheless, here we are. The essays are so well-rendered that they make the reader ache. While it's clear that Brian makes a personal connection to each of the many people he talks to, what becomes even clearer as we read is that we make that connection, too, as Brian puts us in the room, or on the train, or in the mall and takes us along for the ride. I highly recommend this book!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kate Anthony

    The Poetry Of Strangers by Brian Sonia-Wallace (6/30) Rating 4.5 / 5 Stars ** Thank you to Netgalley, Harpercollins, and of course, Brian Sonia-Wallace, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I must admit, I have never read a book of poetry like this. I’m a huge fan of poetry and travel writing so to see them come together in a brilliant book like this, I am so happy. Brain Sonia-Wallace relates a range of experiences with everyday human beings. By simply setting up a typewriter on a street, The Poetry Of Strangers by Brian Sonia-Wallace (6/30) Rating 4.5 / 5 Stars ** Thank you to Netgalley, Harpercollins, and of course, Brian Sonia-Wallace, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I must admit, I have never read a book of poetry like this. I’m a huge fan of poetry and travel writing so to see them come together in a brilliant book like this, I am so happy. Brain Sonia-Wallace relates a range of experiences with everyday human beings. By simply setting up a typewriter on a street, he finds strangers interested in poems for sale. Getting to know these people through his desires, this collection of essays opens the eyes to those with deep dreams and longings, love, heartbreak, and demons. Brian takes a cross country journey with these essays. He becomes a storyteller, embracing the stories of everyday people and combining it with beautiful themes and geographical links. It is thought-provoking, moving, and truly an eye-opener to the everyday people building America and provides a beautiful view of the vast country we all tend to forget is that vast. I highly recommend this collection if you want to enlighten yourself through a beautiful writing style and themes.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    I love a good memoir, especially one where travel and tales of the people you meet are involved. While this is the compilation of the stories of the story of Brian’s occupation, the thing he does to pay the bills, some of the chapters felt out of place. “Deviants & Witches”, while a great chapter of Brian accepting who he is, didn’t feel as if it belong in the book. It didn’t really have anything to do with his poetry story (I felt). It threw me off and I struggled a bit to get my head back into I love a good memoir, especially one where travel and tales of the people you meet are involved. While this is the compilation of the stories of the story of Brian’s occupation, the thing he does to pay the bills, some of the chapters felt out of place. “Deviants & Witches”, while a great chapter of Brian accepting who he is, didn’t feel as if it belong in the book. It didn’t really have anything to do with his poetry story (I felt). It threw me off and I struggled a bit to get my head back into the story after that chapter. “The Story of Us” felt hastily thrown in at the end to wrap up the story. All in all, an alright memoir. Funny at times and very informative at others. Per usual, grab it and judge for yourself. Not every book is for everyone.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Hottinger

    The Poetry of Strangers follows the adventures of Brian, who picks up a typewriter, travels the world, sets up a station, and listens to people as they share life stories. He then types a poem for them on the spot. Even though his ventures may seem lonely, he connects on a different level with those around him. Brian finds the world connects and feels through his poetry and time. What a beautiful way to share your talents with the world! I highly recommend this read! The world is full of good!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Shepherd

    This book totally surprised me! I wasn't expecting to like the writing as much as I did. The author tells of his travels as a "poet in residence;" I had never heard the term before, but it fits this author, this poet. Imagine being paid to write poetry for fellow travelers on a three-day train trip or being housed in a hotel in the Mall of America for days while writing poetry for people who share their stories. These are just two of the many adventures the poet shares in his writing. I receive This book totally surprised me! I wasn't expecting to like the writing as much as I did. The author tells of his travels as a "poet in residence;" I had never heard the term before, but it fits this author, this poet. Imagine being paid to write poetry for fellow travelers on a three-day train trip or being housed in a hotel in the Mall of America for days while writing poetry for people who share their stories. These are just two of the many adventures the poet shares in his writing. I received an ARC free from Harper Collins through Goodreads.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Kidwell

    The Poetry of Strangers What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter by Brian Sonia-Wallace HarperCollins Publishers Harper Perennial Biographies & Memoirs | History Pub Date 30 Jun 2020 I am reviewing a copy of The Poetry of Strangers through HarperCollins and Netgalley: Before he was an award wining Author and Poet, Brian Sonia-Wallace decided to set up a typewriter on the street with a sign that read Poetry Store. In doing so he found something that surprised him, all over America, people w The Poetry of Strangers What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter by Brian Sonia-Wallace HarperCollins Publishers Harper Perennial Biographies & Memoirs | History Pub Date 30 Jun 2020 I am reviewing a copy of The Poetry of Strangers through HarperCollins and Netgalley: Before he was an award wining Author and Poet, Brian Sonia-Wallace decided to set up a typewriter on the street with a sign that read Poetry Store. In doing so he found something that surprised him, all over America, people wanted poems. At first Brian was an Amateur Busker who asked countless strangers what they wanted a poem about, and to his surprised many of these people opened up to share their deepest longings, yearnings, love, and heartbreaks. Hundreds then thousands of people around the nation from every walk of life became converts. The Poetry of Strangers is the story of Brian’s cross country journey, through a series of his heartfelt and thought provoking essays, chronicling the journey. In his travels Brian learned that people were not afraid of poetry, when it came to telling their stories. The story of Brian’s Journey comes at a time of unprecedented loneliness and isolation, and shows how art can be a vital bridge to community in surprising places. The Poetry of Strangers is a thought provoking idea. This book is an unforgettable portrait of America told through the hidden longings of one person at a time, by one of our most important voices today. I would recommend this book to anyone who needs to be reminded just what a gift poetry can be. I give The Poetry of Strangers five out of five stars! Happy Reading!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jess Witkins

    I received an advanced copy through NetGalley and really enjoyed this book. At its heart, The Poetry of Strangers makes poetry accessible and for all. Brian Sonia-Wallace did something I'm pretty amazed at as a writer - he made money writing poetry, and not just tip money, but like, he eventually went on to pay his Los Angeles rent with money he earned from poetry gigs. That in itself should be commended, but I appreciate HOW he did it too. Setting out with a typewriter, Sonia-Wallace set up all I received an advanced copy through NetGalley and really enjoyed this book. At its heart, The Poetry of Strangers makes poetry accessible and for all. Brian Sonia-Wallace did something I'm pretty amazed at as a writer - he made money writing poetry, and not just tip money, but like, he eventually went on to pay his Los Angeles rent with money he earned from poetry gigs. That in itself should be commended, but I appreciate HOW he did it too. Setting out with a typewriter, Sonia-Wallace set up all over the country, and sometimes internationally, to ask people "Do you need a poem?" He didn't set out to write the best poems, he set out to write something that would make a connection. What happened was that more often than not, Sonia-Wallace acted as a short term therapist and witness for a population's grief, love, spirituality, transition, and evolution. The book is written almost like a series of vignettes about the various places he set up and some of the more meaningful connections he made. I really enjoyed reading his experiences about writing on a cross country train ride, teaching theater in the Amazon rainforest, and even writing inside the Mall of America. My one request is that the book would have included more of the poems Sonia-Wallace wrote during these years, but the ones included are lovely glimpses into a moment of meeting someone new and finding a brief connection.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Rodgers

    When I first started this book, I was skeptical-the confidence of a mediocre white man to do literally anything. In this case, writing typewriter poetry, something Sonia-Wallace neither studied nor was interested in before randomly deciding to do it. That irked me. It always does. Then I kept reading. Brian traveled the US, connecting with people of all backgrounds and ages. They shared a few moments. Art happened. Art, I believe feeds our souls. How can you say art is worthless than consume it When I first started this book, I was skeptical-the confidence of a mediocre white man to do literally anything. In this case, writing typewriter poetry, something Sonia-Wallace neither studied nor was interested in before randomly deciding to do it. That irked me. It always does. Then I kept reading. Brian traveled the US, connecting with people of all backgrounds and ages. They shared a few moments. Art happened. Art, I believe feeds our souls. How can you say art is worthless than consume it constantly, through movies, books, tv, graphic design, music, landscaping...? As a writer and theatre artist myself, I have found that I am desperately missing the communities that Sonia-Wallace describes in his book. I need to connect with art, other artists. My creativity needs it. I need it. All this to say, I found The Poetry of Strangers inspiring. Not for me to go and write typewriter poetry, though I certainly could, but to connect with art and artists again. CW: witchcraft, transphobia, sexism, racism, prison, immigration, religion, drug use, colonization, death of a child, vomit

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chris Voss

    Check out this full interview on The Chris Voss Show Podcast - https://bit.ly/2YpElq2 The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter by Brian Sonia-Wallace This was a fun interview I really enjoyed. Brian has explored a wonderful experiment in poetry but also the psychology of people with exceptional insight into a multi-faceted road of life. This isn't just about poetry but the brilliance of our lives and finding meaning. Order his book today at https://amzn.to/3j6QVCA Check out this full interview on The Chris Voss Show Podcast - https://bit.ly/2YpElq2 The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter by Brian Sonia-Wallace This was a fun interview I really enjoyed. Brian has explored a wonderful experiment in poetry but also the psychology of people with exceptional insight into a multi-faceted road of life. This isn't just about poetry but the brilliance of our lives and finding meaning. Order his book today at https://amzn.to/3j6QVCA DO YOU LOVE BOOKS & AUTHORS - CHECK OUT OUR NEW BOOK CLUB http://bit.ly/ChrisVossBookClub Subscribe to the podcast at TheCVPN.com

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Coffey

    Thank you Harper Perennial and Harper Collins for sending me a copy in exchange for a review. I really enjoyed the idea of this one, but I don’t agree with the execution. I really wanted to get to know the people, and we did, but I wanted to see more people and their poems. There were a lot of quiet moments for reflection that lost my interest entirely. But then, the author would pull me back in with an interesting encounter that he had with someone on the road. Overall, this isn’t bad, I just w Thank you Harper Perennial and Harper Collins for sending me a copy in exchange for a review. I really enjoyed the idea of this one, but I don’t agree with the execution. I really wanted to get to know the people, and we did, but I wanted to see more people and their poems. There were a lot of quiet moments for reflection that lost my interest entirely. But then, the author would pull me back in with an interesting encounter that he had with someone on the road. Overall, this isn’t bad, I just wish it was set up more in essays than chapters. I recommend this to fans of poetry and travel writing!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Moncrief

    I appreciated the book and I’m one who actually loves poetry. I found nothing wrong with the poems; however, I would love to see more poems that Sonia-Wallace wrote during these years. I have recommended this book to several other people and I would re-read this book over and over again. I want to thank Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read the book before it was for sale.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anne Bruno

    This book was really good. It's a story of telling others stories. I am a little disappointed of how little poetry we get from the Rent Poet himself, but I love this idea. That poetry is a service; That we all have a story needing to be told; If only there was someone to listen.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Susan Burlew

    I liked this book more than I expected. The stories of the people the author wrote poems for were fascinating. I can understand how walking around with a typewriter caught people's attention. The author sees poetry as people wanting or needing to be heard. Would recommend!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Allie Sanford

    I thought this book was going to be more of a memoir, but it ended up being much more snippets of views into different lives and reflections on the deep thoughts and feelings they give way to. I laughed, I found myself inexplicably crying more than once.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Bannister

    i enjoyed the book. im one who truly likes poems.i found nothing wrong with the poems. i would reread the poems over and over again.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Actual rating: 2.5 rounded up to 3.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sue Sonia-Stone

    I love his way of connecting with people through poetry. Reading of his adventures while writing his poetry is inspiring.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Corrissa Ricard

    This book was not what I thought it was going to be. I was hoping for more poetry, more work from strangers. I don’t know, just not my most favorite read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    T. Augenblick

    Moving and interesting stories about how people need to be heard. Words are the greatest gift, and Sonia-Wallace and his traveling typewriter prove it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alice Buhlair

    Really enjoyed the first half. The second was a little circuitous. But wonderful poems dispersed throughout.

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