This time last year marked birth of Ars Poetica, the experiential entertainment company that “brings words to life” as Founder Lisa Markuson, who was also born on this day describes. Within one year, Ars Poetica has grown to 35 artists, over 200k followers on Instagram, and has been booked by reputable institutions like the New York Times. And while their services span across the U.S. and beyond to places as far as the U.K., they’re Greenpoint-based at their core. You may have noticed Lisa and other Ars Poetica writers with their vintage typewriters doling out free custom poems and tarot at one of the 2019 Greenpointers markets. Or you may have seen Lisa pop up around the neighborhood under the umbrella of the Haiku Guys + Girls, which she co-founded and previously ran for several years.
My own story with Lisa goes back to the end of 2014, just three days before I officially closed on the purchase of Greenpointers, and I was looking for some respite from a tense personally challenging few months. The only other person inside Milk & Roses was Lisa and while I can’t remember the entirety of our conversation back then, I do remember that I received a handwritten haiku and a small glimpse into my future for the next few years. Lisa was the first of many complete strangers who would enter my life through Greenpointers. Almost five years later, we circled back to the place where we first met and talked about what transpired during that time period. Back then, Lisa was working in a bike tour company and doing haikus on the side. Now, she is a solo entrepreneur having surpassed her projected revenue within the first year and has been featured by outlets as large as CNN and Bustle for her work.
Ars Poetica is inspired by but not limited to poems. “We are going to provide a completely one of kind element to your event that’s going to make it unforgettable, make it notable, make it something that is going to help people connect better according to Lisa:
“The kind of need that we fill is twofold. One is that something to do at the party that’s not just eating and drinking. It’s also a completely custom memento or souvenir from the night. As I’ve grown the company, diversify what we do, represent other artists, it really comes down to bringing words to life.”
This could be anything from a poet doing a crazy custom live activation on stage to creating an anthology of poets’ work and visual art to tarot readings. “Tarot, for instance, is using words and archetypes and conversation to connect with someone… As long as it’s using words to elevate human connection, that’s what we do,” she says.
The interest in human connection is the common factor behind Lisa’s trajectory from international communications to hospitality to performance art and entrepreneurship. “Hospitality is a way to cultivate empathy and any special experience that makes the world a more peaceful place.” Her foray into haikus was at the tender age of seven in Sacramento, where her multicultural class celebrated a lot of diverse art forms. Lisa started writing haikus on typewriters when a sushi chef in D.C. who she was freelancing for wanted to do a trendy kind of “hip” party in his restaurant.
Lisa had recently done a typewriter poetry event for an arts orgs that was a big hit and suggested that she does exclusively haikus in keeping with the Japanese theme.
“Japanese art and culture in general has always been fascinating to me. A few years ago, I spent 6 weeks in Japan and travelled all over by myself. I took a haiku class with a monk and calligraphy classes… so haiku has a very very special place for me and I love it when people want us to do exclusively haiku but I also think that it’s very important that we’ve moved on from just doing haiku because we’re an extremely intersectional company. We have people of every possible race, linguistic origin, all around the world and it’s not really relevant to just offer haiku. I don’t want to be hindered by that.”
What’s next for Ars Poetica? Celebrate the launch of their new collaborative product line Astro Poetica , candles that comes with a unique poem by astro + tarot poet, Christine Aprile to bring intention and inspiration into your home, and your year. Lisa and the Ars Poetica artists will hosting a “Light Up Your 2020” event on Saturday January 11, 2020 at Class & Co (260 Ainslie Street). RSVP and details here.
More from our conversation:
Greenpointers: What’s the future of Ars Poetica?
Lisa Markuson: I want to hone in and continue to refine what we offer. This year was a lot about experimentation and what’s valid. Starting to represent tarot readers for instance and offering the whole Astro Poetica tarot experience was totally a crazy idea that I had and I wasn’t sure if it was going to fly.
Starting to offer calligraphy has been a big one. It’s something that provides a lot of the same nostalgia and beauty and tactile benefits of a typewriter but in a totally different direction and kind of realm. And it can be casual and fun and can be extremely posh and high end which I love.
Greenpointers: You’ve gotten political with your poems in the past. How does politics play into your work now?
I’m still pretty political. I just get more and more political every year to be honest. I try not to make it eclipse the artwork obviously because on the one hand, I’m never going to write poems for the Republican national convention or something but I also don’t want a client to feel like this radical is coming into their space. I want people to know that I’m extremely respectful of different opinions. My dad is my best friend and he’s a republican. He’s much more conservative than me on certain issues. But we can also find common ground. I can find common ground with 95% of people.
Greenpointers: Can you tell me about your Senator poems?
Lisa Markuson: So after the 2016 election, I was honestly so depressed. I thought, what could I do to help prevent us from having such a divisive political climate and such a lack of care for the repercussions of our short-sighted actions? And I thought about empathy again and wondered about what would happen if I sat down in front of every senator, lawmaker, look them in the eye, ask them for a topic and write them a poem? Get to know them on a human level. That’s when I decided to write a poem for every single senator. I wanted to learn about them, learn what drives them, know about why they do the things they do.
Greenpointers: You say you get more and more political every year. How do you think that will impact your work going forward?
Now, just being a woman-owned company seems to be political in its own way. I wanted to do more philanthropic work so as more and more environmental crises are coming up, I’ve done research about things that we can do on an individual and global scale. I kept coming across research that is saying that reforestation is the way to go. Planting trees is the simplest most effective least cost-prohibitive way to reduce temperature, carbon monoxide, clean the air, keep the soil strong and healthy so I started doing research on different tree-planting orgs and one tree planting org really resonated with me so we entered into a partnership where we count every poem that we write and we make a donation corresponding to that. For every poem we write, we plant a tree.
Greenpointers: There is so much about your journey to becoming a solo woman-owned business that resonates with me. Do you have any lessons learned that you can share with us?
Lisa Markuson: This city has this frenetic pace where you almost feel like wrong or lazy and almost boring if you just stay inside and relax. So part of the blessing that I have is that because my work is in the event industry I go out all the time, I’m social, I don’t isolate myself in email because the nature of my work demands that I’m out and about. So for me, the other side of things is that I just need to tell myself it’s ok to turn off, turn off my phone. Slowly but surely I try to spend an hour or less actually just sending emails every day.
Other little things I do? I’m really into exercise. The moment that I quit my day job a Crunch gym opened on Manhattan and Calyer one block away from me and it was such a God-send because I had no schedule I had to follow. The least I could do is go to the gym every day. They have awesome classes. The yoga classes they do are high quality. For $20 a month, I cannot get a better bang for my buck.
Also recently getting a co-working space. It’s called Class & Co in East Williamsburg. They’re opening a new location one block away from me on Manhattan Avenue so guess where I’ll be moving my co-working space to?
I’m insanely frugal. I cook for myself and I consider that to be meditative as well. Just taking time out to feed myself and not just rely on food delivery and eating out all the time has been really important to me. I keep my costs so low so that if the market fluctuates when there’s a dry month, I’m not freaking out. That’s been really important.
Greenpointers: What’s your typical day like in Greenpoint? What are your favorite places?
Lisa Markuson: My absolute favorite place to hang out in Greenpoint is Le Gamin. If you can’t find me, try looking in Le Gamin. I will have their French Onion soup at 10AM. They have awesome espresso drinks. They have this great happy hour with wine and oyster for like $11. Their croissants are nuts!
I love going out to some of the bars out here. Just the other day we went to Anella then we went to Moonlite Mile. And then we went to Oak & Iron and stayed there until 4AM. You can totally do a late night in Greenpoint!
For a little daytime jaunt, I love Ashbox. I love their onigiri and their soupy rice… I add all of the comforts. I add the shiso, I add the wasabi, the radish, the plum, the umebushi…
I get my coffee at Upright. They’re a tiny place but they have absolutely best beans. I love to go in there, sit at their tiny little bar, and read the New York times. They make their own almond milk and I will tell you something, they make their own caramel syrup which I am not a sweet coffee drinker at all but this caramel syrup that they make is so rich and has a smokey taste to it almost more like Dulce de Leche …
Walk the West is my favorite place for vintage.
And Dusty Rose. Maresa is my hero. She’s so so committed to environmental sustainability.
I love everyone in Greenpoint!