[Hpn] Project brings poetry to homeless

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Wed, 25 Jul 2001 15:08:28 -0400


-------Forwarded article-------

Wednesday July 25, 2001
Asheville Citizen-Times <http://www.citizen-times.com>
[Asheville, North Carolina, USA]
News section
Project brings poetry to homeless

By Barbara Blake, Staff Writer <bblake@citizen-times.com>

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 hopelessness.

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 
homeless people.

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.

"Broken Glass"

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,

Blood everywhere


Flowing into the vast darkness

Where I’ve chosen to live.

Evanne Fisher

>From a 10-minute writing exercise: "Broken Glass’’

July 2001

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

Angry father


Angry sun


I fail

I’ll never learn

Twenty Years Old

Seagulls. River smell. Open space.

Laughing friend


Wobbling bike


I’m doing it!

This is love.


10-minute writing exercise: "Learning to Ride a Bike’’

July 2001


**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 <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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