The Poet: Topacio Althaus
April 7, 2015
I spotted Topacio at the Farmer’s Market one morning. She was sitting at a sweet little desk just her size. Her fingertips were tapping away on the keys of a vintage typewriter, and hanging from the desk was a sign that read, “The Poem Corner”.
I was hooked, so I scooted my family over to see what this charming vision was all about.
A a couple of superhero poems on demand later, and a request to write poetry at our boys’ birthday party, Topacio was at our house whirling out poetry for kids and adults. She must-have written thirty poems within a couple of hours that day. (… )
Inspired and passionate about her work, she got me thinking… what if more of us plopped down somewhere and started doing exactly, or maybe not so exactly, what we want to do?
Maybe something unexpected and truly special could happen to us too…
where are you from?
Born and raised in Los Angeles, California. But I mainly grew up in Culver City.
what did you want to be when you were a kid?
Everything. I started out collecting sea animal books and wanted to be a marine biologist. I would sit down for hours and try to memorize the names of different dolphins and whales. I also wanted to write for Rolling Stones magazine when I was in middle school. I recently found a letter I wrote to the editors trying to persuade them to hire me. It didn’t work. Then I wanted to be a chanteuse because embarrassingly enough I was really into Whitney Houston and that movie, “The Bodyguard.” I really wanted to join my moms church choir but I was too intimidated by the whole ordeal and the matching robes, so I took singing lessons instead. I remember singing Linda Ronstadt’s, “Desperado” & Rent’s “Seasons of Love.” It’s pretty funny actually. I will always know how many minutes are in a year and have an appreciation for Linda.
what do you do now?
I guess you could say I am a professional poet. People always ask me what my “real” job is and I usually just say a writer because people can’t comprehend someone being a professional poet. It’s pretty much a poetry on demand business I run which started when I was living in London. I had moved there after teaching English in Spain and I got a horrible job working at this pub. I couldn’t understand anyone with their thick accents, so I would get a lot of the orders wrong. That endeavor didn’t last long. And then my flat got broken into three times and I was pretty stressed about my move as a whole. It was kind of one of those things like lets move to a different country where you don’t know anyone and dont have a job or money, but hey you have dual citizenship so use it, and see what happens kind of thing. It probably wasn’t the smartest move, but I thought the only time I could do something like that in my life is now, so just do it.
Anyways, I was pretty determined to make London a good experience since I was fascinated by its history and influenced by the writers, like the Bloomsbury Group and Virginia Woolf, who were from there. I really didn’t want to leave and associate London with my bad experience. Luckily, one day I stumbled across a typewriter at this little thrift shop and remembered this woman who used to sell her on demand poetry at the Hollywood Farmers Market in Los Angeles. I remember being really blown away by her ability and I had kept her poem in my wallet for a year because it was so beautiful. Why I thought I could do on demand poetry is beyond me, but I bought the typewriter with the little cash I had intent on doing it. I made a sign and went to the Brick Lane Market the next day and wrote poems for hours. The typewriter bought itself, I made most of my rent that day and fell in love with the whole experience. And I’ve been doing that on and off ever since. I was even able to turn one of my best friends on to it and she’s been doing it in Oakland.
I tried getting what you would call a “normal” job and I was a manager at a film studio but I was really unsatisfied with it. But, I’m pretty much always working on something creative. I recently wrote a short film and am going through the process of getting all the music licensing and a crew together. Its a long process, and I’m learning as I go. But it’s exciting and I’m finding new ways to challenge myself, which is vital for me. Making music is also a big part of my day to day life too.
what was going on at the dinner table when you were growing-up?
My dad would mutter a few words in English with his thick German accent, my stepmother would be doing her best to peel the skin off the sausages my brother and sister would refuse to eat. Yes, peel the skin off sausages … or making sure the “green stuff” wasn’t in their food as my dog would circle the table and eat everything that made it to the floor. Then I would grab a dictionary and tell everyone what the word of the day was and try to make them memorize it. Experiences at my mom’s house were different since we were always moving around. We never stayed in the same place for more than a year or two. I think I’ve lived in every area of Los Angeles because of her. My favorite dinner table experiences with her were probably the ones where I persuaded her to take me to Souplantation.
who is a personal source of support and encouragement?
My grandmother has always been a rock in my life. She helped my mom raise me and understands things I can’t even begin to comprehend because she’s probably the wisest person in the world. She’s always there to offer words of encouragement when I’m doubting myself, or to just listen when I feel like no one else can. She is also one of those grandmas who is still working at 60 and feels young and has a lot of energy. She has always had her own business and she just started another one, so she’s learning how to make logos on her computer that’s cracked and kinda falling apart. But she makes it work. She was also the eldest of 12 children, so she dropped out of high school to help raise her brothers and sisters and survived the 60’s and 70’s. She’s a fighter and the strongest woman I know. So she has also been a huge source of inspiration for me too.
if you could spend time in any era, which would you choose?
Hmm. Thats a tough question. I guess the 20’s in Paris would be an interesting place to be. I’d go to Alice Toklas and Gertrude Stein’s salon and talk to Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and the other Lost Generation people. I’d persuade them to go on a 1920’s edition Kerouac adventure across Europe to see all the great jazz players and then make Picasso paint me in blue toned colors. The end. Also I would’ve loved to experience the 90’s as an adult. I was a kid so all I know is my milky pens and jelly shoes, but I think it would’ve been interesting to see that shift from “oh look at that person has a cell phone in their car. cool” to “hey, get off your cell phone. you’re driving.” To really experience the before and after of the electronic touchstones.
what is your dream job?
Thats another tough one. I’ve never felt like I could do just one thing, or really do I think I have the personality to do one thing day in and day out. I wish I did. It would make things so much easier. Which is why being a poet works since I am always meeting new people and being kept on my toes all the time. Most of the people in my family are entrepreneurs so I’ll probably follow in their footsteps and hopefully find a way to combine all the things I love into one package. And if that fails then a marine biologist singer who writes for the Rolling Stones will do too.
what are your favorite books?
Rainer Maria Rilke’s, “Letters to a Young Poet” has been sitting on my bedside table for months now. Ive read it a dozen times and I always find something new in it. I can also read Patti Smith’s, “Just Kids” over and over again. She’s had such an extraordinary life and was a wayfaring poet before becoming the godmother of punk rock so I definitely had a lot of things I could relate to in that book. I also love anything by Billy Collins and I’ve been reading Howard Zinn’s, “A People’s History of the Unites States” and really enjoying that one.
what do you collect?
I think all the things I have collected were perfectly baked in an oven and doused in chocolate or aged in an oak barrel, so I can’t really show them to anyone as a concrete collection. But, I guess I can say I have a thing for collecting currency. It’s not too exciting but I love opening my wallet and being reminded of my travels and other countries and how waxy Singaporean money is.