In the past two weeks, large stickers of poems written by Denver poet William Seward Bonnie, who died last November at age thirty, were put up at three Denver locations where he was known for hosting vibrant poetry readings and open-mic events.
Three three-by-three-foot vinyl stickers, each with a different poem written by Bonnie, were placed at BookBar, Hooked on Colfax and Mutiny Information Cafe. The effort was spearheaded and organized by zine publisher Spit Poet Publishing, with whom Bonnie collaborated.
“I could see that his influence resonated with a lot of really cool, important young people,” Mutiny co-owner Jim Norris tells Westword. He says watching people squeegee a poem onto his establishment — where Bonnie had brought artists together — made him cry.
“It’s beautiful to see how much they care, so of course I want to be a part of that,” he says. “It’s part of the literary history of Denver.”
Bonnie, whose real name was Andrew Boeglin, authored ten poetry books, contributed to two anthologies and collaborated on numerous writing projects. He ran art collective and indie publisher Cheeseburger Nebula Galactic Press, and organized numerous reading events around Denver and Boulder over the past five years. He also co-hosted a weekly show in 2015 called Creative Converse on Boulder’s Radio 1190 KVCU.
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Spit Poet editor Caito Foster began selling stickers back in January to raise money for the effort. The stickers included artwork that Bonnie once designed for a cover of Spit Poet Zine; visual elements from that design have been incorporated into the memorial stickers. Artist Acorn, whose real name is Ashley Cornwall, also raised money for Bonnie — her former roommate whom she calls a brother — with a flash sale she organized from Georgia. She sold paintings she had made while listening to music Bonnie created; all the profits went toward the sticker printing costs. Cornwall selected the poems, which were then printed by Black-owned Denver Print Company. It was important to Spit Poet that Bonnie’s poems be printed by a Black-owned business; Bonnie had helped build sets and did some backstage work for the Black Actors Guild.
"He was a miracle worker, not only with his gifts in writing, but in making people come close," says Denver poet/actor James Brunt, who worked with Bonnie at the Black Actors Guild and read at several of Bonnie’s poetry readings. "He was the definition of community and hope in Denver.”
Malissa Spero, one of the owners of Hooked on Colfax, recalls that one reading Bonnie hosted, located in the shop’s “red room,” was so popular that the event overflowed onto the stairway. That’s why the Hooked on Colfax mural is plastered right at the top of the stairway, she explains, looking over the stairwell that was lined with people once again in December, when Hooked on Colfax hosted a packed memorial, complete with cheeseburgers, following Bonnie’s death.
“Wandering philosopher with outdated concepts for this modern world,” the poem begins.
“After we hosted his memorial, we actually didn’t do any more open mics after that,” Spero says. “I mean, it didn’t feel right.”
Nicole Sullivan, the owner of BookBar, remembers fondly the last time she saw Bonnie in person. They were both drinking forty-ounce bottles of rosé in the alley together following a reading.
“He just brought this playful and jovial energy to poetry and events,” she says, calling his events “whimsy.” She describes his poetry style as follows: “These are words that I’m going to read to you from my soul, but at the same time, don’t take it too fucking serious.”
Sullivan notes that Bonnie would often roll up to events with his long hair spilling over his fur coat. He’d always bring a crowd, and not a bland one at that.
“His readings were the most truly diverse readings I ever attended, and the warmth and excitement with which he spoke to everyone in the room had a lasting effect on me,” Denver writer Tameca Coleman says.
Sullivan invites people to visit Bonnie’s new mural, plastered on the back patio of BookBar, where Bonnie briefly worked in 2015.
“Even though his official time here was short-lived, he had such a bigger impact on BookBar than just his short employment, because he kept returning, and he kept submitting his poetry for us to sell, and he kept bringing events and sending people here and talking about us,” she says.
Sullivan credited Bonnie for introducing her business to countless poets and other poetry organizations, calling him “a great connector of people.”
However, she adds, it was all authentic.
“It wasn’t like he was trying to claw himself up to success,” she says. “It was sincere.”
Cornwall — who says the first time Bonnie met her conservative parents, he immediately started talking to them about Satanism — notes that her late friend “was the same version of himself throughout life, always.”
Arielle Roberts, current head editor of Cheeseburger Nebula Galactic Press, calls Bonnie a “born creative” and “one of the most legendary memelords in the universe,” and says he thrived on his knack for connecting people.
“Community wasn’t just a concept or a buzzword to him. It was always at the heart of his intentions,” she says. “His work in the Denver writing community — and in writing communities across the country — was based in cultivating intimate, meaningful relationships with individuals and in facilitating and encouraging that same intimacy between others.”
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Roberts is working on publishing Bonnie’s remaining books so that his words can be shared with the community he loved so much.
In a statement, Spit Poet Publishing encourages Denver residents to visit all three memorial murals and to send in photographs when they do: “We hope they give our community and his loved ones abroad a place to visit him in Denver and feel his spirit, a place to take in his energy once again amid crazy times.”
Even from afar, the murals have taken effect. Bonnie's mother, Suzi Boeglin, who lives in Bonnie's home state of Texas, has been moved by them.
"They just make my heart glad," she says. "They make me feel close to him even though I'm not there."