A street poet's story, captured on film

The Art of Busking
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  June 11, 2014

Among the 40 films to be shown at this weekend’s Emerge Film Festival in Lewiston is A Place of Truth, a 65-minute documentary about 21-year-old “street poet” Abi Mott, who travels around the country as an unconventional busker, writing poems on the spot for strangers. We caught up with director Barrett Rudich via email to find out more about the film; he and Mott will both be present at Saturday’s screening.

*UPDATE: Find Abi today (Wednesday, June 11) busking near Monument Square/Exchange Street around 5 pm. On Thursday, June 12, she'll be in Lewiston starting at 9 am at the Androscoggin Business to Business Trade Show at the Androscoggin Bank Collisee.

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PHX: How did you first hear about / meet Abi Mott, and why did her story interest you? When did you know this could be fodder for a film?

Barrett Rudich: I first encountered Abi on September 10, 2011 on a sidewalk outside of Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon. She was in her street poet mode, sitting at her TV-tray-like table tapping away at her vintage Underwood typewriter. At her feet a hand-made sign: “Name a price. Pick a subject. Get a poem.” Abi was in the middle of writing a poem for a teenage girl; the girl’s dad stood nearby taking in the scene as well.  I had never seen anything like this, in Portland or anywhere else, and though I was on my way toward a downtown errand, my curiosity held me within Abi’s orbit. 

I asked the dad to offer some explanation as to what was going on and he gave me a brief overview of the street poetry arrangement, and then I quickly formulated a subject for a poem that I would request of Abi when my turn came. The subject I chose was Ambiguity, and as soon as the girl received and read her poem, I walked up to Abi and asked her whether it mattered if I paid before or after the poem was written. “It doesn’t matter, either way.”

I handed her a $10 bill and took a few steps back, reached for my iPhone and began to photograph Abi at work. 

It should be noted that before being a filmmaker I was a still photographer, and my creative roots in photography are grounded in the tradition of street photography. A big part of street photography is serendipity, coming upon random juxtapositions that play well within your photograph. With experience, and yes luck, you are poised to appreciate these fortunate configurations.

Observing Abi at work on my poem, I was immediately impressed  with her intense mental concentration. She was completely immersed in the act of writing the poem in the midst of the surrounding urban activity.

It was actually in this very moment of watching Abi work on my poem that I got the inspiration to make a film about Abi. I knew there was something here and I visualized the essential feeling of the film before my poem was completed. After I read the poem, I actually told Abi of my idea to do the film and we talked a bit more about her story of becoming a busking poet (which was a very recent transition at that point). Abi did not have a cell phone at that point in her life but we did exchange emails and reconnected via email about a week or two after this first encounter.

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