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The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  124 ratings  ·  45 reviews
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
ebook, 304 pages
Published June 30th 2020 by Harper Perennial
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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Start your review of The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter
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. ...more
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the spirit of “The Poetry of Strangers,” I shut up my fear of poetry, forgot about the gatekeepers, and tried to whip out a poem on my laptop like a busking typewriter poet - quickly and with as few deletes as possible (which was only mostly futile). Here’s my poem inspired by this book:

Grasping connection
With a total stranger
Like cool sand in my hands
Refreshing and simple
And a million tiny crystals
The way we understand
Not the seven seas
Of intricacies
Our poor non-strangers
Chart with such sk
Kathy Mcconkey
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 ...more
Alice (Married To Books)
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
Connie Hall
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Steven P
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Kate Anthony
Jul 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Jordan Beamer
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Dec 27, 2020 marked it as contemplating-its-sins
Shelves: 2020, dnf
I gave up on this about 1/4 of the way through it. I just didn't care. Perhaps due to my 2020 mood? Not sure. ...more
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
David Langhals
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: harper-perennial
I really enjoyed this. This is essays and poetry as the author traveled from place to place and the people he met. I'm envious. What a great adventure to travel and write poetry.

Thank you Harper Perennial for this copy.

Dawnny Ruby
Novels N Latte
Hudson Valley NY
Anne Yale
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jess Witkins
Apr 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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
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!
Nancy Shepherd
Jul 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adult readers
Recommended to Nancy by: Harper Collins
Shelves: contemporary, memoir
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
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
Courtney Rodgers
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtqia, nonfiction
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
Christine  P
I was eager to read about this fellow poet who traveled to cities far and wide with a glimmer of hope and a typewriter. He would set up a small table and chair along with his typewriter and wait for the people to come. When they did, they would request a poem about a particular topic. They would pay a denomination that they deemed appropriate. As time passed, the poet was asked to work at musical festivals, spiritual retreats, business conventions and wedding receptions. Throughout the book, he ...more
Brandi Spering
Oct 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Poetry of Strangers is a refreshing yet relevant read for 2020. It doesn’t just cover the journey of a typewriter poet and his residencies throughout America, but the ecology of the places and more importantly, the people, he meets along the way.

Despite the depth of the subjects this book travels through, it is a light read; Brian Sonia-Wallace doesn’t paint a bed of roses, but he doesn’t stomp on one either. He draws connections between commerce and art, job and identity, as well as societ
Chris Voss
Aug 22, 2020 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Check out this full interview on The Chris Voss Show Podcast -

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
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
Amy Casey
Oct 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brian Sonia-Wallace's meandering memoir stops off at unexpected destinations as he explores what it means to make a living as a busking poet in today's America. Through the lens of his spontaneous poetry that is born of conversations with whomever approaches his typewriter and table, he contemplates all different kinds of desires, legacies, and wishes for the future that define the lives of the strangers that he begins to know. From the shiny temple to commercialism that is the Mall of America t ...more
Clare Ashcraft
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am fortunate enough to have been taught by Brian Sonia-Wallace, if only for a short time. Though the timeline of the book got a bit muddled for me at some points, I came out of it with a better perspective. It broadened what I have been told I could do (because it was certainly not that I could pay my rent with poetry). I cannot imagine having these vast and deeply diverse experiences, but it gives me a glimmer of hope that I could, eventually, create something like this.
Kelly Moncrief
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nathan Mayer
Oct 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very fun and interesting read about a lot of different things. I was drawn to it by the "traveling America" aspect, then read about varying items of importance, such as discovering ones self, connecting with others, reading/writing/literacy, etc. The poetry aspect was the thing I did not find myself connecting to, but the rest of it I most certainly did. I enjoyed it very much. ...more
Anne Bruno
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
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Brian Sonia-Wallace’s books include The Poetry of Strangers (Harper Collins, 2020 “Full of optimism and wide-eyed wonder” - The New York Times) and I sold these poems, now I want them back (Yak Press, 2016). His writing has been published in The Guardian and Rolling Stone, and he teaches creative writing through the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and Get Lit - Words Ignite. He is the founder of R ...more

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