The master plan for this interview with Twitter’s @ProductPoet was that all my questions would be in rhyme.
Most poetry makes absolutely no sense to me and the only rhymes I consistently enjoy are — surprise, surprise — limericks. After puzzling over rhyming questions, I enlisted the talents of a poet about whom I’ve written, Tim Torkildson, and another reader from Richmond, Va., Shelton Bumgarner. Thanks, guys. Couldn’t have done it with you!
Next I had to negotiate interview details with the Product Poet, who stressed that he does not get paid for the relentlessly sunny rhymes now viewed by 157,000 Twitter followers.
He did not give me permission to show video of him without his mask or to share his real name. I am certain he is not KFAN’s Carl Gerbschmidt, Twitter’s @TheRealCarlG, a crazy character with whom I did a Q & A via e-mail. Let’s just say the TPP is big on analytics, as is his wife, who would be instantly identifiable if I shared just four details about her.
For longer form works about poetry, products, “charities dear to me,” travel and food — and he grilled some food the day of this interview — TPP’s outlet is www.theproductpoet.com. It is the only place you’ll catch him authoring “snarky social media articles.”
TPP was thrilled that I didn’t request all his answers be in rhyme. If you notice that his grammar in print does not line up with what’s on my startribune.com/video, it’s OK because I received his permission to fix “that” for “who,” “there’s” that should have been “there are” … and sentences ending in prepositions. I confided to him that his ungrammarly slips sometimes killed my ears.
Speaking of figurative deaths, he does have plans to kill Twitter’s Product Poet at a date to be determined.
Q: Your verse is sweet, sweet as can be, how quick can you write it with glee?
A: I tend to write poetry in response to tweets in 15 seconds or less. So I like to say I can read and respond in rhyme or Haiku faster than almost anyone can do.
Q: While rhyming rhymes seems to give you personal thrills, what’s your real job, the one the pays the bills?
A: I wrote a story a while ago that really explains who I am. It was called, ‘What are you?’ because people used to ask me that all the time. Let’s say I am in the C-level suite of a financial services company where we are involved in purchasing certain types of instruments from individual debtors and we also have a consulting business which we consider to be a technology incubator. We work with companies that are emerging and might need some investment capital to grow as well as [advice] on marketing social media. I get to play in both worlds, the creativity on one side of my brain, the analytics on the other.
Q: That new TV commercial for Interactive Brokers where the advice literally comes with an enormous grain of salt kind of explains why you have to be in disguise?
Q: Note to readers: He answered two rhymes in one question. Your poetry spreads far and wide so how do you fend off base pride? How do you woo the muse each day when making money holds no sway?
A: For me poetry and the reason I write poetry is to promote what I consider a dying form of art. If you look at a lot of statistics that are out there, poetry books published on a year over year basis are declining. Yet there’s such a thriving community on Twitter, especially, using micro poetry where you have the ability to disseminate a poem quickly to everybody around the world. On one hand my being able to write a rhyme in Haiku geared toward a brand sometimes is actually better than the way the brand [ambassadors] could do it themselves. I’ve only been attacked a handful of times by people who have said, ‘What you are doing is writing poetry and getting paid by a brand?’ I don’t take one dime for what I do. I’m not in this for any economic benefit. It’s simply for me to be able to spread poetry around the world. Everything for me is considered to be real-time marketing. I don’t plan anything in advance., so I react to everything I see. I know when I go and get a cup of coffee at Caribou, I know I can quickly write a Haiku about their product or my love for coffee. So for me nothing is planned nothing is rehearsed. But here is the beauty of what it is I do. I’ve already posted the pictures to Instagram, to Twitter or elsewhere. Now I can in the morning, while I’m exercising on my bike, write a 500-word article about a restaurant I went to, like the Foxy Falafel in St. Paul. Come on, Foxy’s in the name, Falafel is awesome food, I’m in a great mood. For me it’s all about the intellectual curiosity to tell people about something they’ve never known about before.
Q: When it comes to chillin’, why is this poet one who prefers grillin’?
A: I love food. I love telling people about new products that they might not have ever heard about before, like My Big Green Egg. I’m constantly on this smoker/grill. I love to be able to get my neighbors and my friends their dietary fill. So for me, it’s really relaxing, when I can be outside and I can hear the birds and the owls, when I’ve grilled at night. For me there is nothing greater than a great piece of meat, or fish, where the meat is sweet and the fish is delish.
Q: When taking up pen and ink, does having a Thesaurus help you think?
A: Absolutely. I wrote an article on my website called “How to become a Poet” explaining that 30 years ago when I started writing poetry the world was much different. We didn’t have the Internet. When I was in college I carried around a 40-pound Smith Corona word processor. I had a dictionary in one hand, a Thesaurus in the other and I would trudge up the hills in Wisconsin. It wasn’t until the advent of the Internet and all its applications that [I can say] if anyone wants to become a poet here’s how I would do it. First of all I’d take a theme or word. Oftentimes I’ll ask my followers on Twitter to give me three random words and I’ll make a poem out of that. I’ll go to my dictionary.com app and write the definition down. Then I’ll look at all the synonyms and antonyms. I open up the Rhymester application on my iPhone and find all the rhyming words to the synonyms and antonyms. I take all of those and [put them] in a structure. A traditional sonnet 14 lines, 4 by 4 by 4 by 2. Shakespearean sonnets. I can write a full-fledged poem in about 15 minutes. Don’t fear poetry. I love it when I see people on social media say, “I haven’t written a haiku in 30 years.” I send them a how-to haiku. Even like Paul Allen [of KFAN]. I got Paul Allen to start writing poetry. I look forward to getting my Minnesota Vikings Haiku from him on mornings when he’s on the [team] bus going to the stadium.
Q: How many years have you been married?
A: Twenty years this year.
Q: You’ve been married 20. I assume you have written your wife poetry a plenty?
A: Very good. You’re learning how to speak in rhyme.[This guy will praise anything.] I have written her a lot of poetry over the years. Some of it’s been published. You might not know whether that poem is about a person. So I can take an inanimate object, a coffee cup. While it might look like a coffee cup, I am expressing my love for something that is bold and beautiful [and has] a beautiful bouquet; it’s really about my wife every day.
Q: There is a lot of bad poetry out there. How much of your poetry is bad?
A: I would say, it’s in the eyes of the beholder. When you write poetry and someone can’t easily understand, then you’ve missed the mark. Good poetry is open to wide interpretation.
Q: Most poetry does not make sense to me, so is my problem with poetry that I am not very bright?
A: A lot of poets try to sound smarter than they are and they make it hard to read. All poetry should be easy to read. Why was Dr. Seuss so successful: What he wrote was iambic pentameter, it becomes very singsong and easy to read.
Q: Has Hallmark ever contacted you?
A: No. I write my own greeting cards and their submission process is a little bit wonky.
Q: Is any subject so taboo than on it you would never chew?
A: No. A lot of time I can be a little risqué in some of my tweets. For example: Oh my meat looks so sweet with a picture of the meat on the grill and the rub that I used. When I tweet, rhyme or Haiku about eating Jimmy John’s pickles or I love their sweet meat and they turn around and retweet that to their followers, the next thing you know between their interactions and mine, we’ve now had 30, 40, 50,000 people who have seen that message in less than 15 seconds.
Q: What makes your tweets unique?
A: I don’t complain. It’s one of my rules of engagement and rules of Twitter and social media. I don’t feel we need to bash other people or other brands or bad experiences. I try to take that offline. If I am having a bad experience at a restaurant, I’ll go up to the manager and say, “Just so you know, I’m having this bad experience.” I’ve had my third birthday on Twitter, which is like 30 in technology years. I’ve put out almost 69,000 tweets, a massive amount, nearly all of that has been in poetry in one shape or form. By doing that I have gathered a massive amount of data, which is one of the things I’ve written about before, about how brands interact with people. Every time I love a brand I send that out to 156,000 people on Twitter alone. The reason I have a strong affinity from a lot of the people I interact with is because I’m always so positive.
Q: You had a very unpositive experience on Twitter lately?
A: I did. Last summer I was verbally attacked by a Twitter troll. She responded to one of my tweets and called me a brand whore. I explained in a rhyme that wasn’t the case “What I do I do for free, for my love of poetry.” People started to comment in my defense. What it did was put me back a little bit. I actually took a hiatus from Twitter, sent out a goodbye tweet. It wasn’t a permanent goodbye. The reaction I got was very encouraging: Don’t let this person get to you. I came back after six days. In the meantime, somebody asked me to set up an account for Charlie Charley, so now there is PP’s Puppy, so if I was going to retire, he could take it up. Interesting about this person. This person actually sent out one of the more horrendous tweets I’ve seen in a long time, that ultimately got her banned from Twitter. The backlash came fast and furious. People think they can type away anonymously all the time; in reality you can’t. We’re not born with hate. It’s a learned trait. It’s one of the things I don’t tolerate.
Q: Share with me as you go back in time the very first words you ever rhymed?
A: Great story. I recently came across a poem I wrote when I was about 9 years old. I posted a picture of it on my website, www.the productpoet.com, I was going through paper work from my grade school years; yellow faded paper, in pencil, some of the words were spelled wrong. It was about Halloween. It was about witches on stitches and brews with the crews. It was kind of Double Double Toil, I forget the phrase. That was fun to be able to see that again.
Q: I know you don’t get paid, but can poetry be made to pay in this crass commercial day?
A: It absolutely can. I know there are several poets who do make a decent living at poetry. I don’t get paid but say for example a company asks me to teach them how to engage their followers better. I say, “How much is my time worth, $5,000 for the day? Great. I want you to write a check of your choice in my name. That’s what I enjoy. I love to be able to take what I do and help somebody else out.
Q: What’s with the disguise?
A: I love that I’m kind of the antithesis of the selfie world we live in; I don’t need to take off my mask. I don’t need the personal recognition of who I am, because I know I can help people in other ways. I was put on this earth to help people; that’s what I love about everything I do.
Q: When you love Haiku the way you do, do you listen to rap and hear totally crap?
A: I have a love of rappers who follow me on Twitter, including Snoop Dogg. He started following me in my third month of being on Twitter. I know exactly the tweet that I hooked him.
Q: What was it?
A: He had a picture of a woman’s lips that had candy crush all over it. I basically said the candy on the lips make my heart skip a tick. Because of the lyrical nature of prose and rhymes, I tend to have a lot of rappers, beat makers, people interested in music. About 50 percent of my followers are people interested in music. That is a way for me to engage people.
Q: To my ears you’re bringing tears because of your misusage of the contraction for “there is”?
A: [Laughing] I get tweets all the time from the Grammar Police. I don’t mind that. I don’t take that personal. Usually I dislike it when I’m not grammatically correct. What will happen unless I’m in the middle of a tweet storm, is I will delete that tweet and retract the grammar. I hate typos. Am I grammatically correct all the time? NO. Do I mind when people correct my grammar? NO. I love that. It makes me a better writer, it’s that feedback we all need.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her check out Fox 9’s “Buzz.