The September 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Police Raids on Fresno Homeless

Memorial to Mary Who Died

New Orleans After Katrina

Troubles for the Berkeley Housing Authority

Link Between Foster Care and Homelessness

An Epidemic of Rising Poverty

Angel Behind Prison Bars

Blaming Street People for Cody's Demise

MASC Storage Lockers Offer New Help

Interview with Osha Neumann, Artist/Attorney

Resisting Unjust CEO Pay Rates

Liberation from Hell of Addiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Social Change

Sept. Poetry of the Streets

Review of Jan Steckel's Poems


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November 2005

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March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

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The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Poetry Shelters the Voiceless Ones

The Underwater Hospital by Jan Steckel

Review by Mary Meriam

Jan Steckel is a Bay Area poet and physician. Photo by Margaret Warnusz

A hospital should be a place of healing. But if the hospital is underwater, is the hospital drowning? Likewise, a physician should be a healer. But if the physician can't heal, is she drowning?

Slowly and carefully, read the 12 poems in physician-poet Jan Steckel's chapbook, The Underwater Hospital, and each poem will make you weep. Why must there be so much pain and suffering? How does a person of conscience and compassion keep from drowning in tears?

Steckel captures the voices of victims and deftly portrays their life stories of rape, homelessness, Holocaust, disease, hopelessness. We're made conscious of Dr. Steckel's own distress and sleepless nights over her helplessness in the face of suffering and death. Save me!

"The brow is that of Deity -- the eyes, those of the lost, but the power lies in the throat -- pleading, sovereign, savage -- the panther and the dove!" (Emily Dickinson)

What makes this collection of poems so extraordinary is that Steckel's clear voice of suffering and death is matched by an equally clear voice of joy and life. These poems show us how to be brave and hopeful, no matter how hopeless and helpless we may feel.

Steckel shows us the heart of activism: Pray. Examine your conscience and behavior. Make poems that soften the hard hearts of the world. Give the homeless man a banana. Give the mothers extra help. Work harder than anyone. Give your fellow physicians inspiration. Hope that the hospital, and everyone in it, is not completely drowned. Respect each beating heart. Never forget your own humanity, your three little Mexican sisters, your old-maid Jewish aunts.

She dreamed of the last Rabbi of Riga
turning from the door of the gas chamber,
as he shepherded his congregation in.
Beyond him, her two old-maid aunts
clutched each other's hands
and stared at her past the Rabbi's shoulder,
whispering "Never forget, Selma."

"If history is a record of survivors, Poetry shelters other voices." (Susan Howe, Incloser) Steckel's social poetry gives a voice to those with no voice. Social poetry has a conscience and fights injustice. It is not just art for art's sake -- it has a function -- it can comfort, inspire, and encourage.

To be comforted, inspired, and encouraged, read The Underwater Hospital, attend one of Jan Steckel's poetry readings in the Bay Area, and visit her online at jansteckel.com.


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