Isak Bond: Typewriter Poet of Roosevelt Row

By Nikki Soto

Isak Bond is a drama teacher at Saint Mary’s Catholic High School who almost never sits behind a desk. But on First Fridays on Roosevelt Row, or the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, you can find him sitting behind his tiny TV tray and vintage typewriter, pounding out poems for the public. From love poems to avocado poems, no request has ever stumped him, and he continues to bring literature to the people in ways that make poetry relevant again.

WOD: When did you become interested in poetry and drama?

Isak Bond (IB): I can’t remember a time I wasn’t. I have been reading and making things all my life. Poetry and drama became my great loves in my early teens. The arts are how I encounter the suffering world, and how I try to help my students encounter it as well. They are the best antidote to the current educational preoccupation with nothing more than what to do until the undertaker comes.

WOD: What got you started doing typewriter poetry on Roosevelt Row?

IB: Well, I watched Jared Duran and Ashley Naftule doing it a few summers ago, with an incredulous excitement in my belly. They offered to let me have a go, but I chickened out. I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind after that, and [so] I kept an eye out for used typewriters… bought one inexpensively, and summoned up the guts one night to sit on Roosevelt Row with a sign and write [poems] for strangers.

WOD: What is your favorite thing about writing for strangers?

IB: My favorite thing about it is the flash of recognition on someone’s face after they’ve given me a specified prompt, I’ve done my best, and something just worked. Creating that space for a connection between myself and a stranger, a moment when they’re taken out of their lives, is an honor. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it cracks open my heart, and it helps me love.

WOD: What inspires you to write poetry, and what topics do you write about most?

IB: I’ve certainly experienced so-called inspiration in moments of extremity, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to wait around for inspiration. I pay attention, listen, read a lot, and trust my gut when I go to work. In typewriter poetry, I might write about anything. I’ve rarely turned down a topic. Not distinguishing between “deep” subjects, like time, or love, and “simple” subjects, like an avocado, helps me keep seeing everything as being worthy of attention in a poem. Left to my own devices, I write about doubt, loss, pain, impermanence and the movements of grace. I’m not very original.

WOD: How does your love of the arts translate into teaching?

IB: The teacher’s task is a special kind of impossible, and no one is adequate to it. I never thought I would be one myself. I came to Phoenix looking for a job, and when a good friend let me know of an opening at a charter school in Anthem, I was lucky enough to get an interview. They gave me the opportunity to teach a practice class, and I led a seminar on Seamus Heaney’s “Digging” and William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow.” It went well, I got the job, and I dove in. I gradually came to recognize my own passion for the practice. Whatever parts of teaching that have given my students hope, opened up the smallest insights into knowable reality, or even clarified their pain, are my favorite parts. That, and summers off.

WOD: How do you actively stay involved in the arts community?

IB: It’s difficult. Although I am fortunate to teach the two subjects closest to my heart, it leaves little time to work creatively. But I want to be so much more involved in the arts community than I am. I miss dozens of great events and shows because teaching and coaching drama take up so much time.

WOD: How has living in Phoenix influenced you as an artist?

IB: I take a posture of gratitude to Phoenix. I’ve been here almost eight years, met dear friends, met my wife, worked on projects I care about, and connected with some wonderful writers and actors. I’ve been welcomed and encouraged and helped by so many here. I don’t take that lightly. For some time, I didn’t believe anything I loved mattered to anyone else. Phoenix taught me otherwise.