poetry fox

There’s something very personal about standing in front of someone whose mission is to write a poem perfectly curated for you based on a single word. Add a fox costume to the mix and you have a fun and interactive form of performance art open to everyone. 

Chris Vitiello does just this. In human form, he is a communication strategist with NC State University Libraries. In his spare time, he transforms into a fox who writes custom poems on a vintage typewriter. People are asked to provide him with a word to spark his creativity. 

“The Poetry Fox really started as just a kind of a fun spur-of-the-moment idea and has really grown into a pretty robust practice over 12 years,” Vitiello said.

Vitiello is a conventionally-trained poet, getting a Master of Fine Arts from Naropa University after being involved in literature for many years. After coming across a fox costume from a family member, Vitiello had the idea to make it a part of his art practice. The costume provides a sort of informality to a typically formal activity. 

“It's a great introduction to poetry for a lot of people who might not ever read poems or who might not really think of them,” said Amy Sawyers-Williams, manager of Arts Outreach and Engagement for Arts NC State. “It's super accessible. Give him any word and he writes you a poem.”

Sawyers-Williams originally came across the Poetry Fox at a festival and immediately thought it would be a great thing for NC State students to experience. The fox appeared most recently on campus on Feb. 16, a wellness day. 

“It just made sense that what he does is write these really insightful poems that you wouldn't expect based on a prompt that you give him,” Sawyers-Williams said. “It adds beauty to your day and to your life, and so that's a form of wellness.”

The emotion that the Poetry Fox is able to bring to people is something that Vitiello values in his work. Being able to read a person and write a poem accordingly has taught him a lot over the years.

“It's just a good feeling — to get to interact with all sorts of different people and understand everybody's similarities, and that everyone really wants to experience joy and comfort and care no matter who their politics are or what their background is,” Vitiello said. “The Poetry Fox has just kind of opened up access to that for me, and I'm able to do something to spark a little kindness and emotion in people.”

Being so involved in a performance that can involve a lot of laughs — and even tears — means that Vitiello has to find a way to deal with these emotions. 

“I used to kind of carry a lot of the emotion around and not know what to do with it,” Vitiello said. “But now I think I've just developed the practice of having a light touch of working with somebody, and then I get to go away and not carry everybody else's emotions around with me.”

This learning process has been gradual over the time Vitiello has spent in his fox costume; he admitted that much has changed over the years. While the costume first started as a fun thing he could do, he realized that it could be a more serious endeavor.

“Seven years ago, I didn't see this as a business,” Vitiello said. “I just saw it as a fun thing that I get to do sometimes, but over the years it's become more substantial and I've thought more like an entrepreneur.”  

Some may wonder how someone keeps up an act for so long. Fortunately, Vitiello has yet to experience hurdles like writer's block, as the love for what he does keeps him going. 

“I kind of never want to get out of the fox costume,” Vitiello said. “I really love doing this. I'll have a Saturday with three events on it where I'm just performing, whipping in the car, roaring to the next thing, performing morning to late night, and those are the best days.”

Having a passion for what you do is one thing, but creating such a special and moving piece of art is another. Not only does the Poetry Fox impact Vitiello personally, but it also impacts those he reaches with his poetry. 

“He's clearly making a difference on campus; he's making an impact,” Sawyers-Williams said. “There's just so much stress in life no matter who you are. You can have the [Poetry] Fox write you a poem and it's like the opposite of that stress.” 

To book the Poetry Fox or get a commission piece, visit Vitiello’s website. To stay posted on the next time the fox will be at NC State, follow him on Instagram or follow Arts NC State.

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