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Jeremy Brownlowe: Typewriter Troubadour

by Laura PrebleMay 2024

Jeremy Brownlowe

If you’ve ever watched any Renaissance-period films, you probably remember seeing a hearty band of troubadours plying their trades on the go. Think of the traveling players in Hamlet or, more recently, the theater troupe from Station 11, which keeps the art in humanity when the world falls apart.

The point is that those traveling players keep art alive in those environments. Our world has not totally broken apart, but we still need artists to keep art alive. With that in mind, consider strolling through the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market or the Little Italy Farmer’s Market on a weekend, and you just might find a living example of this heritage: the Typewriter Troubadour.

Jeremy Brownlowe, an energetic man who often wears a fedora and maybe a retro-looking bowtie, can be found in a corner of those markets creating on-the-go poetry for those lucky enough to find him. His moniker, the Typewriter Troubadour (typewritertroubadour.com), describes what he does: he takes a prompt, a word, phrase, or topic from a curious passerby, and, on his olive-green Smith-Corona, he creates on the spot. He composes bespoke poems for your enjoyment, on your chosen topic, and he does it quickly.

The click-clack of the keys on the paper may be unfamiliar to younger folks who’ve grown up with the internet and may never have even used a typewriter. (As a journalism school graduate from the ’80s, the sound of a typewriter always gives me a little PTSD, but that’s my own problem.) It’s a novelty for many people, and the awe of seeing something created right before your eyes feels fresh and magical. Here’s a poem created just for you, a combination of words that has never appeared before and probably will never appear again in exactly that order, on that piece of paper, on that particular sunny market day. In a world of pre-made everything, it’s a lovely wizard’s charm.

“The way I live my life is like a modern-day beatnik,” Brownlowe says. “I am traveling across the country, living an avant-garde lifestyle—writing poetry that comes to mind, reflecting people’s lives—it’s very improvised, like jazz.”

Typewriter Troubadour video…

This troubadour started out as a musician. I grew up performing in San Diego coffee shop, open mics, and when I graduated from high school, I moved to Portland to pursue music,” he says. “I worked as a cook in various places, then kind of did life as society prescribes it—get married, have a house, have a career – and then a series of personal events happened. I ended up hitting the road on a soul-seeking adventure.”

Until he encountered a roving typewriter bard, he hadn’t considered that as a job option. “The first time I ever saw a typewriter poet in real life was in New Orleans, the typewriter poet capitol of the world. It’s become a thing. And every time I roll into town, it’s a whole new cast of characters: gritty, gutter-punk surly pirate poets. They definitely have their own thing—there have been typewriter territory wars…people throwing typewriters in the river, mis-used words that have caused some great content if someone was to do an oral history of typewriter poets in New Orleans.”

The wild scene of New Orleans and the violent hurling of Olivettis aside, the idea of being a touring wordsmith didn’t really click until a chance meeting propelled him forward.

“I had this desire to leave behind the life that society deems ‘normal’,” he says. He grabbed his trusty typewriter and went out to see the world—or at least the United States. “I had my typewriter on board, took a wrong turn in Sedona, and ended up on Route 66. I followed it down, saw a bunch of old motels, followed the road to the center of town. I ended up in a little café with jazz on the patio. I looked at the newspapers and saw there was an open mic that night.

“I went in, and I met this woman who was there training people who were slam poets. We got to talking—she lived an avant-garde lifestyle and traveled. She suggested using my typewriter as a busker to make custom poems. One of her old boyfriends, Kevin Devaney, did that. She kind of inspired me with the idea, and since I had been playing music and grew up in the open mic scene in San Diego, I used to bring my guitar to busk in the ‘’90s. So, it wasn’t outside of the realm to busk with the typewriter.

“I was in Jerome, Arizona, which is a ghost town that is a tourist place…it had a very haunted feeling, like you’re in a time warp. I brought the typewriter out and took a shot at it for the first time. I just kept touring, and by the time I hit 13,000 miles of road trip through the southern and southwestern U.S. to New York and back, I’d decided to quit my job at the grocery store that didn’t honor my creativity. I’ve been doing it as my full-time job ever since.

“Back in the day, to become a typewriter poet, it was a stroke of fate. If I hadn’t gotten lost going out of Sedona, would I have gone to Flagstaff and meet that woman who told me about Kevin? Or was I destined to be typewriter poet? Back in the day, it was a happenstance thing or a passing down of the idea or giving people typewriters and telling them to go out and do it,” he said.

Today, he’s built his Typewriter Troubadour business to include not only street fairs and markets, but also corporate events. He’s been hired to “perform” at the Lafayette Hotel, USD, the Joshua Tree Music Festival, Wormwood San Diego, Viva Las Vegas, Dallas is Lit, the Poetry Brothel LA, and many other events.

Although it sounds incredibly romantic to live on the road as an artist, it’s not always easy. “I’ve had a lot of run-ins with people over the last couple of tours. I think what it is, is that it’s learning to have boundaries as an established artist who has been giving his entire life to sacrificing for their art their whole adult life. Forgoing the comforts of more traditional life ,like having an apartment, I’ve been in the middle of America on my last nerve in a gas station bathroom, washing my hands in hot water and feeling the total awe of that self-care moment.”

Describing hot water in a gas station bathroom as self-care may not sound like much. But being on the road and being a solo artist reframes the world. Little things mean a lot. And though he asked more established traveling poets for help in getting set up, most just said he had to find his own way. He now appreciates that. And he is pushing the Typewriter Troubadour brand toward an even better life.

The Typewriter at work @ Tio Leo’s. Photo by Liz Abbott.

“I’ve really been trying to step it up as far as branding of Typewriter Troubadour,” he says. My number one goal is not to look like I live out a van. I have a good attitude and really want to see the poems as medicine or a reflection of where people are at, which in turn lifts my spirits. Part of what makes the journey great is overcoming these moments of desolation as an artist. When some poet rolled through town recently and asked where to set up, I told them that they needed to go on their own journey.”

Locally, he’s connected with San Diego music legends like Sue Palmer to create his art at venues like Tio Lio’s. “At the last gig I did with Sue Palmer, someone from the audience wanted a poem about the collaboration between poetry and jazz and the typewriter being a instrument with two artists creating in different mediums.”

The Queen of Boogie Woogie piano loved it. “He types great poems on the spot while listening to the music. I spin from my vinyl collection and in between Liz (Ajuzie) sings cabaret songs with me on the beautiful baby grand piano. I thought it was a fun artistic touch. He’s an interesting, entrepreneurial character! It adds to the atmosphere to hear the typewriter clacking in the background. Something new and fresh!!”

Here is the poem he wrote for Sue Palmer that night at Tio Lio’s:

Poem for Sue.

At the end of the 13,000-mile road trip, Jeremy went by Santa Cruz to find this Kevin Devaney, the man whose story inspired him to start the whole project. “The second I found him at this café where he worked, he asked me to go get an antique typewriter across town. One of those old-school typewriters. I go to get him that and we have become fast friends and colleagues and have toured across the country together.”

The adventure has also spawned books of poetry, most recently one titled Poems For Other Peoples’ Lovers. He’s also written about everything from mermaids, meatballs, miscellaneous musings about a junk drawer, secrets, feminism, forgiveness, lavender, drumming, liking someone but not sure they like you, compassion, arts save lives, the alchemist and the muse, dreams, astrology, androgyny…no topic is too big or too small.

The wide range of topics and his overview of this grand journey tells him one thing clearly: “I think people are tired of the one version of the American Dream.”

Typewriter Troubadour presents the Secret Poet Society, an open reading to inspire and celebrate your own inner secret poet. Saturday, June 8th at Valkyrie Yoga in Ocean Beach. 4876 Santa Monica Ave. Follow @secretpoetsocietysd on Instagram for more info.

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