Poetry in Motion

Daniel Thompson's poetry bus warms up for the Hessler Street Fair.

Strings attached: One of these Daniel Thompsons will - appear at this year's Hessler Street Fair.
Strings attached: One of these Daniel Thompsons will appear at this year's Hessler Street Fair.
Six years ago, the Hessler Street Fair was rockin' with some serious poetry action. Since its premiere during the hippie days of 1969, the neighborhood festival had always been awash in poetry, music, and crafts. But something happened on the poetry stage that fateful day in 1996: Words like "fuck" and "cock" were uttered, and poetry was promptly booted from the grounds.

It returns to this weekend's Hessler Street Fair -- on a bus: a poetry bus conceived by Cuyahoga County poet laureate Daniel Thompson. (Actually, it's the Coventry Village Magic Bus, doing double duty.)

"I've been trying to get [poetry] back for a long time," he explains. "But there was always some reason I couldn't pull it off. This is basically my idea -- I don't think anyone else missed it at all.

"I always wanted to bring poetry to the same people that would go to a baseball game or a fair."

You'd think that Thompson -- the dry-witted guy who's kept the words and spirit of the Hessler poems alive for the past five years at the Barking Spider Tavern -- would not only be anticipating spoken word's Hessler homecoming, but be behind the wheel of the poetry bus as it rolls up to University Circle's Hessler Road. But Thompson won't be at the fair. Hell, he won't even be in the country.

"I'll be in France for an international music festival with [local percussion ensemble] Drumplay," he explains. "I had to make a decision: Do I want to be famous in the neighborhood or an international star?" So he's sending someone in his place. Someone who looks an awful lot like him. Someone who's made of wood.

Yep, it's a special appearance by the Daniel Thompson puppet, which debuted a couple of years ago. In past performances, the puppet has recited Thompson's poetry onstage, while Thompson himself heckled it from the audience.

"My brainstorm at the time was to make puppets of real people," explains creator Michael Bradley, who also made 20 Abraham Lincoln marionettes that were featured in a series of performances around town. "We thought it would be funny to have a puppet that does poetry. It started out as a challenge to see if I could make it look like Daniel, and it turned out frighteningly similar."

Bradley will be pulling Thompson's strings onstage . . . er, on-bus . . . as well as providing the words (unless he opts to play a recording of Thompson reciting verse). "We've been onstage together," Thompson says, referring to his Mini-Me. "I've actually slammed with myself."

Gosh, we haven't done that since college.