By day, Chris Vittiello is a mild-mannered librarian at North Carolina State University. By night, he is the Poetry Fox, moonlighting as a bard for hire. “I bang out custom, on-demand poems on vintage typewriters. Also, I’m a giant fox” reads the bio of Vitiello’s vulpine alter ego. His habitat: parties, corporate events, festivals, art shows, the occasional dive bar. His niche: connecting a person to a poem.
For the librarian-cum-fox poetry is a lifelong passion. Even before he could write, Vitiello dictated words and phrases to his parents. He was a voracious reader and a prolific writer, often checking out of a dull lecture in high school to dash off lines. He went on to earn a master of fine arts and continued to write, publishing three books of poetry.
But, the life of a poet is a solitary one and, as Vitiello laments, “most poetry is read by poets, not regular people.” He wondered how relevant his work was if he was not participating in life. The solution arrived as a strange and wonderful gift from a relative—a discarded cartoonish fox costume. Vitiello doesn’t recall when he decided to put on the fur suit and write poems in public, but he recollects it happened for the first time at an art open house at Shadowbox Studio in Durham.
Vitiello has been poetry foxing for about seven years and has written over 10,000 poems. (Vitiello confirms poetry foxing is a verb.) This year he has already had over 70 gigs and in October went on an 11-night run, producing 610 poems.
A Poetry Fox experience is one-of-a-kind. First, a guest approaches the fox’s table where he sits behind a typewriter. He asks the guest for a word. He takes the word and creates a poem on the spot. Vitiello likens writing in costume to being in a portable, soundproof private studio. There is only a small portal in the Fox’s mouth, so all he can see is the typewriter’s keyboard—he can’t even see the paper as he types.
Once the poem is complete, he removes the head, makes a tweak or two, marks it with his signature stamp, and reads it aloud. For Vitiello, this personal interaction is powerful. “There are weird, psychic moments that happen,” he says. He may guess the exact age of a child or intuit that a loved one has recently passed. “You pick up on things in a short period of time,” he says.
The Poetry Fox then gives the poem to the guest. It goes off into the world—to be pinned to a fridge, framed over a crib, or in one case, buried with a loved one. Vitiello says, “The idea that this poem is going away with a person and they have this object that is going to live with them … That is what it is about. It’s about the life of that piece of art.” —Katherine Poole