Street Poet Writes On...
feature on Stan Burriss originally published in Real Change

Stan Burriss is a big person, with hands to make a Styrofoam coffee cup disappear. Soft-spoken in the manner of large men, he is one of Seattle's better-known activist poets of the street.

Although Burriss, 49, once pursued a Ph.D. in English, most of his writing these days occurs in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, on the sides of cups.

"AA got me writing again," said Burriss in a recent interview. "You do two things at an AA meeting. You drink coffee, and you talk."

"During an hour and a half meeting I'll write one, maybe two cups. There's about enough room on one cup for two quatrains, about eight lines. I write very slowly."

"My room is filled with stacked up cups. It's not good poetry at all, but... the cups are there."

Burriss arrived in the Northwest by freight train in 1976, looking for seasonal work picking apples. He started moving south to California to visit family, hit Seattle, and never left.

"I guess I've always been looking for my own version of San Francisco. Seattle is that for me. I like the human feel of Seattle."

Burriss has a BA in English Literature from Laverne College, but dropped out of a later doctoral program at the Univ. of California. "I just don't like to study," he explained.

Like many people who have been homeless, Burriss he feels he isn't "really on the same wavelength with most people on the street. I care, and I honor the people I meet on the streets, but I'm not really like most."

Since settling into Seattle, from his room at the Morrison Hotel, Burriss has been an activist for numerous causes, including Latino rights, opposing nuclear weapons, and sticking up for the homeless.

"I've been involved in Operation Homestead, then SHARE," he said. "I was at the Thanksgiving Tent City at the Kingdome in 1990. These groups have, for me, been places where the walls come down, and community can be found."

Finding community is a key issue in Burriss' life. "There is a story of a mountain village. There, everyone knows everyone, and we all have a place. Here in the City, we're lost. We need to get back to the mountain village."

~~ Tim Harriss
Real Change

Stan Burriss