Tracia Ward-Rainey, one of today's guests on the cable television show "Color Me Poetry," is discussing the unrequited love in her latest romance novel. She pauses to reflect, and host Danny Queen quickly interjects.
"Hmmmm. Interesting. . . . Let me see if I have a poem for that," he says. A few moments later, he whips out a plastic reproduction and reads his poem, "If You Don't Love You."
Such literary outbursts are common from Queen. In addition to having been the host of the show for the past decade, the Hyattsville resident has penned thousands of poems and been dubbed the "King of Broadsides" by colleagues.
Laminated posters bearing the 44-year-old's poetry are sold throughout the Washington area at a network of more than 200 convenience stores, dollar stores, gift shops and hair salons. Queen also has self-published six books of verse and works nights as a school janitor.
Queen says he writes only when he has something to say--which, he concedes with a laugh, is "almost always."
Virtually anything can provide fodder for a Queen verse. A nasty answering-machine message from a creditor inspired "Pay Me My Money." Just so you pay me/ All that I'm due/ If you have to rob Peter/ To pay Paul that's on you.
The shooting death of the rapper produced "Tupac is Not Dead." And despite all, some/ Folk, have done and said/ I don't really believe/ That 2Pac is dead/ But if he's somewhere/ Chillin', just beyond the sky/ I know, he's keepin' it all real/ On a hip-hop high.
Philosophical musings on contemporary subjects inform other works, such as "Blue-eyed Booty," his take on interracial relationships: Blond blue-eyed soul/ At any perverse price/ Is surely some brothers/ Private paradise. Similarly, "No Cream in the Coffee," praises black love: I don't want or need/ Nobody else's cream of the crop,/ Because I've got a coffeemate/ That's good to the last drop.
His take on tensions between blacks and Asians led to "Soul-foo yung," But come and get it/ So called, soul-foo young/ With a combination treat/ Come and get it/ Hot 'n' Spicey, insult with injury/ All you can eat.
Barbara Washington-Smalling, a spoken-word poet from Fort Washington and another of the show's guests, says she has come to expect a new Queen creation after any black social phenomenon erupts. "He strikes while the iron is hot," she says.
For example, in response to the hoopla surrounding Terry McMillan's book "Waiting to Exhale," he wrote "The W2X-hale Poem." Ditto for the death of jazz diva Phyllis Hyman, which led to his tribute "Songbird of the Soul."
The set of "Color Me Poetry" at Bowie State University is bright and sunny, its five canary-yellow wall panels accented with Afrocentric art. Queen, short and sturdily built, sits on a futon with an African-print cover, wearing a white, button-down shirt beneath a kente cloth vest and matching pants. In addition to Ward-Rainey and Washington-Smalling, playwright and author Joy Jones is a guest on today's show.
Queen greets his television audience with his poem "There for You." His elbows on an armrest and his hands folded under his chin, he fluidly exchanges banter with each guest. They share insights about the writing life and analyze literary characters, with Queen frequently speculating on the characters' astrological signs.
Guests read from their latest works, and when the mood hits, Queen throws in a poem of his own. By the end of today's taping, he also has read "The Only Heaven I Know" and "Pay Me My Money."
The urge to write poetry hit Queen at age 7, when he wrote his first verse. At 13, he published his "Generations" in a local newspaper. Money was tight in the Bowie house where he grew up the fifth of 10 children, so he developed an unorthodox way of raising extra cash that would serve him for the rest of his life.
He traveled door-to-door in Bowie and Laurel, offering poetry printouts for 50 cents a pop. Soon, he says, he was clearing from $50 to $100 a day.
He went to college at Bowie State, where he received an English degree in the early 1980s. By the time he graduated, he had found another way to market his writing. He spruced up the printed pages of poetry, getting artist friends to add flashy computer art and laminating them.
Queen subsequently became a pioneer in a little-known medium for the written word, "broadsides." Also known as poster poems, broadsides are slick 8-by-10 posters with copyright material on them. He doesn't do sales calls anymore at private homes because he says it's too dangerous, but he shops his broadsides to retail outlets every weekend.
Though he's done much to bring poetry to unlikely places, Queen is not a rich man. He's currently searching for sponsorship for his show so he won't have to work for free. And for more than 20 years, Queen has supplemented his income by working as a janitor in Prince George's County schools. "It's the kind of work that gives me the most amount of freedom and the least amount of stress," he explains.
Today Queen is working on a few new projects. He's developing a Web site, colormepoetry.com, and is trying to parlay his longtime interest in astrology into more broadside sales. He already has created broadside poems for each of the astrological signs. Now he's putting together sign combinations so he can wax poetic on their romantic compatibility.
He is about halfway through the list of possible combinations and expects to complete it within six months. To market the final product, he will continue his routine of the past 30 years: hitting the streets.
"Poets are the Rodney Dangerfields of the arts," Queen says, noting that the lack of respect frequently means they get no agents, salaries or publishing deals.
"You have to do your own footwork."
"Color Me Poetry" airs from 9 to 9:30 p.m. Monday and from 5 to 6 p.m. Saturday on cable channels 17b and 27a.