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Performance artist offers made-to-order poems 

"What is one thing that's important to you that you'd like to have written in verse?"

Poems for the people: Alexi Morrissey

Photo courtesy of Joey Kennedy

Poems for the people: Alexi Morrissey

We expect it when we're buying sandwiches or lattes, but made-to-order art still seems to be something reserved for Medicis. This summer, however, local artist Alexi Morrissey allows the average person to commission a poem for $20. 

Morrissey's First Editions: Bespoke Poetry for Pittsburgh blends performance art, poetry and visual art. Participants enter Bricolage Productions' Downtown storefront. They're greeted by Dennis McCarthy, Morrissey's music man and lobby-keeper. A record player crackles with tunes from Nico to Druids of Stonehenge. The music sets the mood and also masks the secret exchange to take place.  

Handwritten legal documents are signed and the patron enters the theater. Morrissey waits on stage in one of two red chairs. The theater is dark, but draped in strategic pools of warm light, meant to emphasize that you're on stage ... in front of no one. "But are you really on stage if there's no audience?" Morrissey muses. 

First, Morrissey recites "As Serious as Your Heart Attack," the only poem he's ever written for himself. He guarantees that no one can decipher its meaning, which is masked in figurative language. 

"What is one thing that's important to you that you'd like to have written in verse?" he asks. Following the reply, Morrissey seats himself five steps away at a typewriter and types for about 90 seconds. He returns holding a piece of cloth, newly stamped with a poem he performs before handing it over. "This page is the page of a hero," he began one such poem. "How they stumble in the beginning to win our affection. Later they have to rise up and cut off the head of the beast. The beastly beast." Additional lines describe a figurative fever, a mountain and a voice "on the radio at the end of the hall."

Morrissey types the poems on the small squares of drapery lining he's cut and ironed himself. The cloth is a "humble, hardworking, clock-punching, unsung hero, designed to keep things out of your house," he explains, "and we're moving it to the frame."

While patrons receive the typed originals, Morrissey doesn't yet know what he will do with the poems he's written and scanned. Right now, he just knows he'll be in that theater every Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for the rest of the summer. Bricolage is located at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

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