She Has a Type: Old Market Poet Is a Throwback

Street poet Britny Cordera in Omaha's Old Market. (Nebraska Stories)
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January 5, 2018 - 6:45am

Writer Britny Cordera is a living anachronism. Dressed in retro clothing from secondhand stores, she is a frequent sight on the sidewalks of Omaha’s Old Market. Her writing tool is secondhand as well.  She uses a 1904 Corona typewriter to write poetry on request, delivering catharsis to all who seek it in the form of a poem. 

On a Saturday morning in Omaha’s Old Market, there is an energy. The sidewalks are filled with musicians, a farmer’s market and vendors all competing for attention. Amidst the bustle, you might also hear a familiar sound from the past.

It’s a WWI era portable typewriter designed for journalists of the day to use on the battlefield. Cordera is making her own sidewalk music.

Though she’s a skilled violinist, her 1904 Corona 3 is her instrument of choice.

“I've always loved just the feel of writing on a typewriter,” Cordera said. “It gives me time to think and time to reflect about what I'm writing. It's a very contemplative practice. I started doing this because I wanted to be a poet.”

Britny Cordera's 1904 Corona 3 typewriter. (Nebraska Stories)

Like an artist painting a canvas in the park, Cordera is a plein air poet, taking in her surroundings as the muse for her poetry. 

“It's just inspiring to be around that energy,” she said. “It forces me to write about everything that is in front of me and the experiences that I'm having in the moment.”  

Several days a week, Cordera finds a spot within the flurry and unpacks her fold-up Corona with a case that transforms into a tiny desk.  She unloads the folding chair latched to her back and hangs her shingle, a sign that reads, “Pick a topic, get a poem.”   

“It’s very simple. All you have to do is pick a topic and I'll write you a poem about that," she said.

In the past four years, Cordera estimates she’s written as many as 500 poems at her outdoor desk. They're free, but she does accept tips. And if no one stops, she writes for herself. 

But on this day, things are more lively.  

“Parents with their kids will come up and they'll be like, "Do you know what that is?" Then they become immediately enamored by it. Some kids will know what it is right away, and others can't really put two and two together, that the computer evolved from this machine right here,” she said.

Cordera types a poem in Omaha's Old Market. (Nebraska Stories)

Frank Messina, 10, lives in Chicago and likes to write on his iPad.  He and his parents were just passing by and had to stop.

“I've seen a typewriter before, but it's kind of fascinating to see an old piece of machinery and now in the time that we're at before all these new computers were made,” Messina said.

Kim Johnson has an 88-year-old mother and says there’s not a lot she can buy for her these days. So she gave Cordera some basic information and commissioned a poem.

“I gave her bullet points about her age, you know she's a mom, grandmother, great-grandmother, grew up on a farm, likes to do this, likes flowers, you know, just gave her a little bit of information,” Johnson said.  

Within minutes, Cordera hands Johnson a 5x8 piece of decorative paper with a poem about her mother.  Johnson’s eyes glisten as she reads it aloud.

“Dear Doris. Like stars, your threads of light piece together a tapestry of your family. Immortalized in the night sky a love that is unbreakable. Your gardens of violet pansies are a gift from God. Each flower is a member of your golden family. The farm life treated you well, taught you true beauty in strength and heart. Forever remains the brightest flame that overcomes the darkest days.”

Cordera listens as kids read her poem. (Nebraska Stories)

“Oh my gosh, it’s making me cry. That is beautiful,” Johnson said.    

“Poetry is a catharsis in itself, and so if I can pay it forward by providing people with catharsis by writing them poetry, then that's a big gift,” Cordera said. “That's definitely, it's really nice to do that and awesome and there's no words, honestly. There's no words to describe the feelings and the emotions.”

“I think she’s going to love it,” Johnson said. 

“I’m trying to help people realize that poetry can be used for these things, it can be used to bridge memories,” Cordera said.      

“We are trying to capture moments and experiences and a lot of people are daunted by poetry because they think it's more than that, but it's not. It's very simple, you're writing the life you're living and you're capturing every moment that is important,” she said.

You can see the Old Market Poet on Nebraska Stories-Season 9, Thursday, January 11th at 8 p.m. CST on NET Television.



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