Provo poet lives to make people laugh

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For more than 20 years, reporters around the world have been receiving poems from a Provo man who reads their work and has something to say.

“It’s an obsession for me,” Tim Torkildson said. “Whenever I read something interesting I just have to respond to it in verse.”

Sometimes sent electronically, other times in the mail, poems range in length but are always witty and always rhyme.

He subscribes to at least seven papers — ranging from The New York Times to his hometown paper the Minneapolis Star Tribune — and responds to anything that “tickles” or “outrages” him.

The first poem he remembers sending was back in 1993, a serious poem about the Waco, Texas siege.

Since then the 61-year-old has written thousands.

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During an average week, he’ll write and send five poems to various reporters and news outlets. About 90 percent of the time he doesn’t hear back, but the few times he does is what keeps him going.

In January, Rachel Abrams from The New York Times wrote about the curiosity and persistence that eventually led her to interview Torkildson and publish three poems he sent her.

More recently, Torkildson said he received feedback from a reporter in Europe who called him a “genius” and told him she would “treasure” what he had done with her stories.

To hear feedback like that from a professional writer is gratifying, Torkildson said, especially as a college dropout. He likes the friendships it forms, and hopes someday his hobby could lead to a full-time poetry-writing career.

“I miss doing something that makes people happy,” he said.

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For a good chunk of his life, Torkildson worked as a clown for the Ringling Brothers. His poetry writing started years ago when he was a young father traveling with the circus. Since his kids were home in Provo, he’d write them poems as a way to stay in touch and let them know he was thinking of them.

After arthritis forced him to leave circus life, Torkildson spent 15 years teaching English in Thailand before finding his way back to Utah Valley.

In July 2014, Torkildson received some press from multiple national news outlets after being let go from his part-time job in Provo for supposedly promoting a “gay agenda” through teaching about homophones.

In between jobs, he’s searching for something that makes him and others happy.

“I’m not made to cause people unhappiness,” he said. “If I’m not entertaining people I’m not happy.”

(From an article by Keri Lunt Stevens in the Provo Daily Herald, Wednesday, March 4. 2015)

The Clown and the Opera Singer.

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Years enough ago, I was a cocky young first-of-May with Ringling Brothers Circus, spending my first season in clown alley trying to learn all I could from the old slapstick masters while thinking I was hot stuff.

I quickly fell in with the circus hierarchy, in which the only thing lower than clowns was the roustabouts – those weary and abused men who scooped up the animal droppings, and put everything up and then pulled it all down again.  They were, indeed, a motley crew – wasting their slim earnings on nothing but carnal and bibulous pursuits.  I only spoke to them when it was absolutely necessary.

Their circus uniform was dark blue Levis and a light blue cotton twill shirt with the Ringling logo embroidered on it.  Each man had three sets of clothes, and they were gathered and washed by the show once a week – leaving each roustabout in an extremely fragrant condition during the warmer months.  They bunked together in one train car, and their breakfast was coffee and donuts; for lunch they got a dukey box – a boloney sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a mushy apple.  They had to get their own dinners.

That year the show played Madison Square Garden for 2 months in the spring.  The train was parked about ten blocks away.  So I walked to the Garden each day.

One morning as I was making my way down the street I noticed a man lying in an alley way.  He was dressed in the Ringling roustabout uniform, so I immediately assumed he’d been out drinking the night before and had gotten rolled and dumped in the alley.

Serves him right, I thought self-righteously, as I arrogantly stepped over his legs.  He can sober up by himself and get down to the show under his own power.

I had not gone more than a few yards when I heard a melodious voice shout “Somebody give me a hand here, please!”

I looked back and saw a very, very elegant lady stepping out of a limousine to rush over to the roustabout.

My conscience, never a very active organ before, smote me, and I turned back to help.  I told her I was one of his fellow workers with the circus up at the Garden.

We put him in her limo, where she used her silk hanky to wipe some of the dried blood off his face.  He had come to while we were helping him into the vehicle and weakly explained he had been on his way to the show early that morning when he had been robbed and then pistol whipped.

He insisted on going to the show and refused the lady’s suggestion to be taken to a hospital.  She then handed him all the money she had in her purse, plus several complimentary passes to the Metropolitan Opera, where she was singing.

As we drove up to Madison Square Garden she gave me a quizzical look and asked “Why didn’t you stop to help him?”

I had no good answer to give her.  Instead, I blushed furiously.

After we had been dropped off I helped the roustabout into a side door and over to the elephant tubs where the roustabouts congregated before each show.  His comrades took him from me and were about to thank me for helping him out, but I couldn’t stand their misplaced gratitude and fled to clown alley like I was being pursued by fiends.

I’d like to use my extreme youth at the time – being only 17 years old – as an excuse for my callow and unfeeling behavior.  But I know that I have had to struggle against a cold and callous and judgmental heart inside of me all of my life.

But I do remember that roustabout’s name, some forty-five years later.  Vlady.  From Poland.

I hope he doesn’t remember anything about me . . .

 

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