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




(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


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.





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



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



by Claire J. Baker

It hurts to imagine a


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


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


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




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


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.

Writing for the Street Spirit: My 17 Year Journey

Writing for Street Spirit has awakened in me a sense of responsibility toward others. Street Spirit is a way for people silenced by big money and big media to have a voice.

Animal Friends: A Saving Grace for Homeless People

“I wrapped her in my jacket and promised I’d never let anybody hurt her again. And that’s my promise to her for the rest of her life. In my mind she’s a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her.”

A Testament to Street Spirit’s Justice Journalism

The game was rigged against the poor, but I will always relish the fact that Street Spirit took on the Oakland mayor and city council for their perverse assault on homeless recyclers. For me, that was hallowed ground. I will never regret the fact that we did not surrender that ground.

Tragic Death of Oakland Tenant Mary Jesus

Being evicted felt like the end of her life. As a disabled woman, she saw nothing ahead but a destitute life on the streets. She told a friend, “If I’m evicted tomorrow, I have no choice but to kill myself. I have no resources, no savings, no money, and nowhere to go.”

They Left Him to Die Like a Tramp on the Street

Life is sacred. It is not just an economic statistic when someone suffers and dies on the streets of our nation. It is some mother’s son, or daughter. It is a human being made in the image of God. It is a desecration of the sacred when that life is torn down.

Joy in the Midst of Sorrow in Santa Maria Orphanage

This amazing priest not only housed 300 orphaned children from the streets of Mexico City, but he also took care of 20 homeless elders in his own house and started a home for children dying of AIDS. Father Norman also ran a soup kitchen that fed many people in the village.