Since I am the voice of a violet, crushed by soldiers’ boots, I write poems…
Russian poets in gulags, Jewish poets in death camps, African-American poets, women poets, gay and lesbian poets, have all faced cultures determined to suppress their voices.

by Mary Meriam

A poem is a monument to selfhood. A poem uses the language of a particular culture to make a unique utterance. So while the poem is utterly unique, because it shares a language, it speaks for the self and for more than the self; it speaks for the culture. We feel grateful, comforted, and expanded, because an unexpressed part of ourselves is understood and brought to light.

In every culture, there are always parts of selfhood that are suppressed. Just as certain thoughts, words, and forms of language are suppressed, certain parts of selfhood are suppressed, restricted, or even criminalized.

Often, true poets are forged in highly restrictive cultures. More often, the restrictions are suffocating, and despite superhuman efforts to overcome the restriction, the poet’s creativity and selfhood (if not the actual poet) are crushed. But the poet who manages to survive and grow, despite restrictions, can create great enduring monuments to selfhood.

These poets and poems forged by restriction constitute a literary subculture of survival. Russian poets in gulags, Jewish poets in death camps, African-American poets, women poets, gay and lesbian poets, have all faced cultures determined to suppress their voices. Some crucial and special part of selfhood was the culture’s excuse for suppression, restriction, punishment, torture, and even murder.

The year of the obscenity prosecution of The Well of Loneliness, Charlotte Mew burned most of her poems, then killed herself. To survive, a poet might hide or disguise the self, as Gertrude Stein did by writing in code, or as Amy Lowell did by avoiding pronouns.

The poem serves as a substitute culture, where the deepest and most important towns and cities of selfhood are honored. If the poet is denied pen and paper, the memory serves as pen and paper. If a patient in a nursing home, restricted by illness, and doomed, can grow a flower of selfhood by writing a poem, then she is blooming, and for a moment, she is a poet.

If the poet in a death camp can hold on to the scrap of paper in his pocket that holds his poems, there is hope. Paul Celan, a Jewish poet who endured the death camps, wrote, “Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss.”

Alfred Kittner, a Jewish poet and colleague of Paul Celan, said that writing in the concentration camps gave him the strength to survive. So while the poet works to save the poem, the poem also works to save the poet.

The poet who can survive extreme restrictions, and build a monument to selfhood in poems, is heroic, lucky, and gifted. Enduring a hard life can produce enduring poems. The poet who is able to endure extreme suffering, and go on to produce a body of work, is very rare, which is perhaps one reason why truly great poets are rare.

The African-American poet, Langston Hughes, wrote that “no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself.” Life is short, and we have one chance to learn devotion to the art of poetry, or the years suddenly vanish forever. If we are serious and wish to be considered a true poet, we should remember that our suffering is often an ordinary part of life, and not the suffering caused by the severe restriction of selfhood that a culture can impose.

Broken Dreams and Shattered Promises

by Judy Andreas

You beat me up with empty words

and promises then broken

Betrayal came with words withdrawn

Though much was left unspoken

 

You sent me off to fight your wars

For reasons I opposed

When I came home sick and maimed

The doors were all slammed closed

 

I begged for help but none did come

When fever wracked my brain and

Ghosts of those whose lives were lost

Had driven me insane

 

Yet still I dare to dream the dream

Of how this world could be

and while I’ve breath, I will not cease

to fight for you and me

 

 

DONA NOBIS PACEM

(Give us peace)

by Maureen Hartmann

The San Francisco Boys Choir

moved me to tears

as they sang the piece,

“Dona Nobis Pacem.”

As the generation

that could have been

my grandchildren,

they carry the burden

of bringing peace

to this war-torn world.

 

 

Rich Houses and the Poorhouse

by George Wynn

Everywhere

houses of nerves

store after store closing

people can’t pay the rent

terrible nightmares and fears

of hungering for warmth

 

High-heeled ladies

spend $3000 for

lambskin Dior bags

Wall Street husbands

order custom-made clothing

 

Food prices rise

“I’m having a terrible

time,” is now a normal

response to “How are you?”

 

Senator Bernie Sanders

pleads for a transaction tax

on the stocks of the rich

which falls — to no surprise —

on deaf ears.

 

 

 

Survive

by Sue Ellen Pector

Wide-eyed vigilance,

agony journeys the width

of your grimace.

Head scarf and hat cover

without harboring.

Will you survive

wintry human violence?

 Inspired by an untitled painting by Lenny Silverberg in Street Spirit

 

Awakening

by George Wynn

A poor citizen

of Chinatown

calmly at 85

stands in the noisy

soup kitchen line

in the hard rain

saying nothing

showing the way

The young men

stop grumbling

 

Soft Red Cap

by Sue Ellen Pector

Splashed with pain,

unprotected, you reel and cower from attack.

Soft red cap comforts your moaning spirit.

 Inspired by an untitled painting by Lenny Silverberg in Street Spirit

 

 

Beside Your Dog Friend

by Sue Ellen Pector

Curled on your side

you sleep on pavement beside your

deeply dreaming dog friend

nestled at your knees.

Duffel bag at your backside,

“Need Help” sign by your feet.

May the love between man and dog hold you.

 

Street Writing Man

by George Wynn

He who could talk to people:

his passion

writing portraits

of weary denizens

of streets of reality.

Character studies

of folks with a crack

in a particular layer

of their life.

 

Everyone has a story

to tell: the solitary,

the robust, the enraged

all want to communicate

in pleasant or unpleasant speech

if only someone without bias

they trust will listen.

 

So the street writing man

wanders, listens, dialogues

always fully engaged.

Inspired by an untitled photo by Tia Torres Cardello in Street Spirit

 

Where Did the Old Woman Go

by Claire J. Baker

Where did the old woman go

after her lunch in the rain?

Does anyone really care to know

where did the old woman go

with all that she could stow

in bag and tarp, for little gain.

Where did the old woman go

after her lunch in the rain?

Inspired by “A Homeless Woman Endures,” photograph by Robert Terrell in Street Spirit

 

Who Would We See?

by Sue Ellen Pector

Like slowly melting wax

grim resignation creeps

across your face.

With patches of dark hair

you are balding, weary, pale.

If we tried, who would we see

in you?

Inspired by an untitled painting by Lenny Silverberg in Street Spirit

 

 

 

Kollwitz Survivor lg

 

DUST

by Claire J. Baker

It hurts to imagine a

suddenly-feel-good

homeless woman

once a potent poet,

now a seer for a day

scribbling in the dust

that soon drifts away.

 

Shattered Ideals

by George Wynn

He didn’t see life as it was

but as he would like it to be

Idealistic

just out of his teens

a soldier in Iraq he

discovered a world

of lies

and it hurt him

as much as the wounds

 

He lives in his car with

his sad mood

and pills from the V.A

remembering when at 19

life was still OK

 

Once a month attends

Iraqi war veterans group

Only there is he understood.

 

A Man of the Streets

by George Wynn

Spring afternoon

a man of the streets

sweaty tee-shirt

bulging muscles

a passerby eyes

him with disdain

 

Rather than

lose his grip

he stares at passerby

and smiles

then clenches his fist

in power salute

and continues to push

heavy shopping cart

and endure

suffering

and isolation with a

stiff upper lip.

 

Who are the Destitute?

by Judy Jones

who are the destitute

are they babies

with blood-curdling screams

dying of wretched neglect

hunger and fright

blood-curdling screams

 

until death’s doors

open wide

silencing forever

the infants’ screams

 

or are the destitute

the homeless

who aren’t allowed

to sit stand eat or sleep

and put in jails if they try to pee

 

no the destitute

on this earth

are you and me

ignoring the cries

of the millions

dying on our streets

 

and the starving babies

blood-curdling screams

whose final homes

are unmarked graves

trampled under our heartless feet

 

who are the destitute?

 

An Older Woman

by Gloria M. Rodriguez

I saw her sitting there

round shouldered

but sitting up straight

with graying curly hair

 

Light blue eyes

through silver rimmed glasses

calmly observed

noise of life around her

 

Her skin was pale

a slight smile revealed

wrinkles of age at the end of

her eyes and corners of her mouth

 

Worn wrinkled hands folded on her lap

over a black skirt

while a black shawl

wrapped her shoulders in comfort

 

She was a picture of time

something of the past

that no one around

was interested in asking about

 

Understood why she was there

showing her poise of resolve

that no one had forgotten her

everyone had done their duty

 

Really

though

she was alone

empty from sadness within

 

Red Kiss

by Mary Meriam

Who will miss me when I’m dead?

Maybe someone reading this

is just the sort of daisy head

who will miss me when I’m dead

and planted in a tulip bed.

To her, I offer this red kiss.

Who will miss me when I’m dead?

Maybe someone reading this.

 

My Man

by Cassandra Dallett

dreamt of prison last night

picked up on five year felony

facing another bid

he sat in the holding cell

this time leaving so much behind

no new case no reason to be there

he was a family man now

with custody of his kids

a rare ex gangster driving his kids to

school, cooking their breakfast

he’d laid down his arms

rolled on his back

let me tickle his tender underbelly

ears laid flat

but last night they cuffed him in sleep

pulled him back to an old reality

alone

in a cage.

 

Prayer for Leaf

by Mary Meriam

The last old leaves have blown away,

and I’m alone, undressed, and lost,

shivering in a new spring breeze

beside the lake that laps the shore.

 

Blossom me slowly, bloom me good,

and draw my fancy flowers nigh.

Maple me softly, oak me strong,

and let my close-green clothing grow.

Resurrection of the Poor People’s Campaign

Rev. Barber told the activists gathered in the nation’s capital that by demonstrating in solidarity with poor people, they had become a link in the long history of people who fought for justice.

Hate Crime Laws Needed to Protect the Homeless

As homelessness becomes more visible, people living on the streets are targeted for bullying, assaults, harassment and even murders.

Life Is A Precious Gift: Mother Teresa’s House in Washington

We will never know how many huge pots of soup Jacob lifted with the sisters into trucks, to take to the homeless in the park. We will never know how many diseased bodies he fed, held and bathed, and the number of tears he dried in the early morning hours.

Mother Teresa’s Gift of Love in San Francisco

She took home with her the men who had only a few days left to live and were suffering the most, and tenderly cared for them around the clock. I am certain some of the people I was meeting were angels, whose job was to make certain no soul died alone and unloved.

My Back Pages: A Song for Miss Kay

She softly sings the soul anthem “Stand By Me.” It is a song for Miss Kay, a song for all of us. Her life, with its music and joy, followed by a downward slide into homelessness and death, tells us something deeper than words about the human condition.

My Back Pages: Kerry’s Kids, An Undying Dream

Oakland pediatrician Dr. Karen Kruger said, “Kerry’s death was so sudden and seemingly purposeless and shocking that I think there was a need for people that loved her to carry on her memory in a way that she would look down on from her cloud and be happy about.”