[Hpn] Project brings poetry to homeless
Morgan W. Brown
Wed, 25 Jul 2001 15:08:28 -0400
Wednesday July 25, 2001
Asheville Citizen-Times <http://www.citizen-times.com>
[Asheville, North Carolina, USA]
Project brings poetry to homeless
By Barbara Blake, Staff Writer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
ASHEVILLE – Sometimes in this world, magic happens where it’s least
This is a story about the magic happening down at the A HOPE day center on
North Ann Street, where homeless people gather once a week to create prose
and poetry that is often so profound it will make you weep.
"It was the most humane thing I’ve ever been a part of,’’ said nationally
recognized performance artist Glenis Redmond, who, with singer-songwriter
Billy Jonas, led the first writing workshop at A HOPE last February.
"I went there with the idea that they wouldn’t necessarily get into poetry,
or they would have more urgent needs than poetry - like food, water,
clothes, a roof over their head,’’ Redmond said. "What I found was that the
urgent need was poetry. They had an urgent need to share their spirit, share
their story, share their lives. And their poetry was awesome. It was
timeless and ageless.’’
The magic that started that cold winter day began in part with the help of
grants from the Asheville Area Arts Council and Warren Wilson Presbyterian
Church to help pay for workshop leaders to get the writers started.
The success of the program has led to an invitation for the writers to
perform their works this weekend at Malaprops Bookstore, the publication of
a "chap book’’ containing their works, and, less directly, to personal
successes ranging from newfound self-confidence to housing for at least two
of the participants.
Every week for the past five months, these castoffs from society have come
together with pen and paper to create works of art that are not only
beautiful, but hauntingly lyrical in their raw exposure of souls and dreams.
Sometimes their works are lighthearted and whimsical, but, more often than
not, they reflect the pain and confusion that are companions to homelessness
And yet, these poems and songs and narratives also represent a certain
triumph, a breaking-down of barriers and breaking-through of emotional walls
that separate their authors from hope and the fragile steps that may lead to
a more productive life.
In one 15-minute writing exercise, Jack Moore wrote:
"What is it I am really trying to write?
Something so profound that people will listen?
Something so funny it makes people laugh?
Something so loving it makes people care?
Something so great it will make people love me?
The important thing is
I listen to myself
And I am impressed.’’
Listening to themselves, according to project coordinator Arenda Manning, is
part of the goal for the literary circle, whose members have found emotional
outlets they never knew existed before joining the group.
"The therapeutic value of this project has been enormous,’’ said Manning,
who started sowing the seeds for the gathering after she overheard an
extremely intoxicated A HOPE client flawlessly reciting long passages of
poetry by Robert Burns.
"Someone would be talking about this poet or writer, and someone else would
come up and ask if we’d read or heard this writer, and these conversations
would happen,’’ Manning said. "But then we’d have to leave, and the
conversations never came to any fruition, there was no closure or
opportunity to expand – and yet I knew something really magical was
What happened was the February gathering, followed by the increasing
involvement of artistically gifted homeless clients.
"Clients, staff and volunteers have found a generous common ground of
interaction, a new awareness of community,’’ Manning said. "Two clients have
secured housing as a direct result of their involvement with this project.
Case managers have been given a new window to reach clients who have shared
their struggle with addiction, depression and fear through their writing.
"Many clients, long regarded as loners and difficult to reach, are now
willing to engage in discussion and develop consistent contact with
others,’’ Manning said. "And racial barriers have dissolved as participants
embrace a common understanding,’’ she said.
Using a grant from the Asheville Area Arts Council and Warren Wilson
Presbyterian Church, staffers at A HOPE, which is an arm of Hospitality
House, started the project in February with an open session for 90 to 100
Since than, 41 individuals have participated in workshops led by Redmond,
Jonas, poet-songwriter David LaMotte, playwright Jonathon Flaum and other
Hospitality House staff and volunteers. Each session is guided by a
facilitator to set the tone or introduce a genre, with open discussion to
determine everyone’s "comfort level’’ with the topic. The second half of the
session involves active writing, then sharing the results.
On a recent Wednesday, most of the 13 participants in the upstairs sitting
room at A HOPE were in tears at one time or another during the sharing
portion, either in personal pain or grief, or with empathy for the writers
whose words they had just heard. In this group were men and women, Black and
White, young, old and middle-aged. Some with mental illness, some with drug
and alcohol problems, some with bright futures they haven’t quite yet found.
The 20-minute writing assignment was simple: tell about a journey you have
One woman wrote with aching eloquence about the journey she made to collect
her husband’s ashes at a crematorium after his death from cancer. Another
told, in rich and grieving detail, about the day-long journey she took as a
14-year-old girl to give her newborn baby up for adoption.
"Oh man, I’m sorry, I didn’t expect this,’’ the writer of the second story
sobbed, struggling to regain her composure and continue reading her work.
The others in the room murmured their support and understanding, patting her
back, urging her to go on.
"It’s part of what this is for, to get it all out,’’ said Flaum, the
playwright leading this day’s workshop.
That’s one of the reasons Johnsica Foxe comes to the sessions.
"It lets you get your feelings out on paper, it helps you mentally get
things out,’’ she said. "If you keep things bottled up inside, you’re like a
hand grenade. It’s good to be around poetic people.’’
Wayland Stone, a 52-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran, just started with the
group about a month ago, but has found talents he never knew existed.
"If you live long enough, things change,’’ he smiled. "They asked me to come
up, and it turns out I’ve got a gift for it. I do songs, write a little
music, and since I have to pawn my guitar a lot, it’s (writing) a release
for me. And here I’ve found something else I can do.’’
Flaum, a transplanted Californian, has led writing workshops across the
country, but never one involving the homeless.
"This is one of the most powerful writing groups I’ve ever been with, and
I’ve been with a lot of groups,’’ he said. "The feeling I have just from
hearing these people talking is that people who are not tied down by their
roles or professions speak more lyrically and honestly.
"And what this group makes me think of is what I’ve known all along, that
people need more than food and clothing and shelter. They need spiritual
sustenance, and the ability to find meaning. And this has given them the
opportunity to find deep meaning in the experiences they’ve had in the
Although the meaning is often deep, the depth is sometimes in its
simplicity, as in this excerpt from a poem by Shane Price.
"…Wishing I was back at home,’’ he wrote, "to lose that feeling of being
Contact Blake at 232-6020 or Bblake@CITIZEN-TIMES.com
Writers and poets from the literary community at the A Hope center for the
homeless will present their works during Bele Chere from 7 to 9 p.m.
Saturday at Malaprops bookstore, joined by performance artists Glenis
Redmond, David LaMotte and Billy Jonas. The artists also will have a "Chap
Book’’ of their works on sale for $9.
Contributions to continue the weekly writing workshops can be sent to
Hospitality House, 222 South French Broad Ave., Asheville, 28801.
For more information about the project, contact Arenda Manning at 258-1695.
I’m so Angry
I slam the door
The glass breaks.
It falls to the floor
Like sleet from the sky.
Like the shattered pieces of my life,
The broken glass lies at my feet
As I look down,
I see all of my hopes and dreams
Splattered there amongst
The glistening pieces of glass.
I reach down to pick up the pieces of my life,
The glass cuts my hands,
Flowing into the vast darkness
Where I’ve chosen to live.
>From a 10-minute writing exercise: "Broken Glass’’
By Mikael Johansson, "The Swedish Guy"
Hey what’s up
is how I learned to address you
How you are
I wouldn’t know
But I sure would like to
You seem like a hidden treasure
Hope you doesn’t keep too much pressure
Wanna know you in the right way
So what will you say?
I’m a newborn stranger
that comes to you without any anger
Just wanna be a part of your reality
do something good about your society
So what do you say
Got room for one more?
By Gene Coxie
Everyone you loved is gone
Don’t know where to go or what to do
You walk around looking for a place to call home
You roam and roam but can’t find a home
Then you go to this place … here you find people who love you
People who care, people who accept you no matter what you done
They take you in and give you a place to call home
Then you realize that you are home
(desk: these two poems are actually one poem)
Ten Years Old
Heat. Sweat. Misery
I’ll never learn
Twenty Years Old
Seagulls. River smell. Open space.
I’m doing it!
This is love.
10-minute writing exercise: "Learning to Ride a Bike’’
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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