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Locals | Helen Stratford

Helen Stratford, East Village poet and street performerAndre Tartar

On a recent Monday afternoon, the sounds of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel lilt across Tompkins Square Park. Helen Stratford, 54, an East Village poet and composer, sits with her little white accordion and talks to The Local about the 10 years, and more, she has been performing on the streets.

Where do you perform?

At different points in the East Village — once, if not twice, a day. I like Tompkins Square because it’s near where I live. Sometimes I’ll play in front of St. Marks Church. It’s sort of whimsical.

I used to play in the subway — Astor Place, Eighth and Broadway — but I had to stop performing. Somebody walks by with their Whole Foods bag and their designer dog and their $400 pair of boots and they can’t even give me a quarter? It hurts my feelings.

Do you ever play for money anymore?

I do, I do. But nobody becomes an accordion player because it’s where the money is. If you want to make money, you write poetry. Poetry! That’s where the money’s at. Oh man!

How much can you make performing?

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