Gordon Donaldson says, “It’s like channelling”. He can be seen regularly outside the bookshop Better Read Than Dead in Newtown, seated on a blanket-covered milk-crate, tapping away at his old typewriter.
Writing poems for passers-by on small sheets of paper the size of the palm of his hand. They usually pay anywhere between $5 and $20 for a bespoke copy. He lets them decide. “It’s a matter of how much a poem is worth to you,” he says, “or a love or friendship.” There is something soulful and elusive about Gordon’s face at once when you speak to him, as if he half sees into you and is half trying not to open up too much of his vulnerable self in return. He explains that he began his life of street poetry as a way to get over a period of homelessness and staying in boarding houses – and to start making a real living. Something of a psychic as well, he likes to combine his special abilities with the poetry he writes whenever the opportunity arises and people are prepared to pay for it. In the meanwhile, he gets funny requests on the street like ‘write me a poem about poo’. He also gets lots of poetic requests for people’s pets and birthdays and, yes, love. “One guy wanted me to write about hate. That was hard. But I made it positive,” he smiles. He cites Joyce Carol Oates and John Steinbeck as his major influences, but his love for words goes way to his upbringing in Ballarat and reading authors like Alistair MacLean and William Goldman. “And I thought to myself I’d love to do that.” He explains now that the need to be quick is a real blessing for him. “You gotta let it flow. You’ve got no time to think. I’m just picking up on the energy.” And all around him, in the streaming rush of King Street, someone always seems to stop and asks about what Gordon is doing – before long they are asking him to write something just for them, and he starts another poem.