$ Anitra L. Freeman: My Street Poems

I became homeless in 1995, at the end of an eight-month depression -- or, from another perspective, at the end of 40 years of undiagnosed and untreated manic depression (bipolar disorder).
I was fortunate: I respond well to Lithium. Only a week after I began taking Lithium, I was able to push myself into participating in a craft project at Noel House, the homeless women's shelter where I stayed. We were making Halloween cards. This was the first poem I had written in several months.
Now all threatening shadows
into warmth and light.
I continued to become increasingly active. I moved from the staffed shelter of Noel House to a self-managed SHARE shelter, and became a member of StreetLife Gallery, a self-managed co-op of homeless and formerly homeless artists.
I was still confident of my writing, but I wanted to do something more visual at the art gallery, so I decided to try something new. I checked out some books from the library on handmade paper and found art, and walking back I "found" this poem.
Creating With Found Objects

Out of Limbo
I come
to find
across the pavement
I search
creating with found objects
a life.

Photo of Boyd McLaughlin with his art at StreetLife Gallery
In November of 1995, we had a tragedy at the gallery. Boyd McLaughlin, a generous spirit who had helped and encouraged many new arrivals to the gallery, died. I wrote a tribute to Boyd which later became the opening piece of a Homeless Memorials webpage.

Wes Browning, a long-time member of the gallery, was also active with Real Change, Seattle's street-newspaper, which covered homeless and poverty issues and was sold by homeless vendors. He took my poem down to Real Change, and the next time Tim Harris, the Real Change director, was visiting Wes at the gallery, they invited me to join the Real Change editorial committee.

Madonna & Child, by Wes Browning

The December issue was being collected: a women's issue. I had one poem that I had been working on literally for years, that had begun with the image of Mary nursing the Christ child under the shadow of a cross on the stable wall, and the thought, "Oh my God, did she know?" I had more images now that I wanted to add, and a motivation to get it done for the Christmas issue. When I had it completed, it was a two-page poem -- but I submitted it.

Not only was it published, as a two-page spread, but it was listed on the cover, and the cover art by Wes Browning was based on it. The Quantum States of Mary

I wrote a number of other poems during the four months that I was homeless. One of the most often requested of them is UnNamed ... "And I own / the invisible side of the street." I am personally very fond of The Invisible Lines Are Drawn, which at least got published in real Change, although nobody requests it at poetry readings. The two most often requested poems written in this period, though, were Mother Escapes and My Grandfather's Eye.

Complete List, October 1995-January 1996
Birthday Card for JJ
JJ was a fellow member of my shelter; he became invovled in StreetLife Gallery and was one of the first people to come to a StreetWrites workshop. He now has housing.
Bipolar Does Not Mean I Attract Metal Filings
an attempt to describe the feelings of mania and depression
The Invisible Lines Are Drawn
One of my first combinations of handmade paper, found art, and poetry.
Glimpses of Angels
Created as a gift to the Church of Mary Magdalene, a ministry to homeless women which meant a great deal to me in my recovery, where I learned what self-esteem was.
Creating With Found Objects
A group of students did a documentary on StreetLife Gallery, and I got to go to a studio and record this poem.
Mother Escapes
One day I was telling a fellow poet about an incident in my mother's life in hospitals, and he said "You should write a poem about that." All I had to do was write it the way it happened.
Mother of Dragons
Wrestling further with memories of my mother, bipolar disorder, illness and strength.
Following Memories
I wrote this for Poetry Sharing on one of the online lists I became involved with when the Homeless Women's Network got me on the Internet.
My Grandfather's Eye
The darker side of childhood memories.
He Walked In
One of the first poems I workshopped in StreetWrites.
Dragon Pending
The dragon has always been for me a symbol of the creative fire inside.
Bus Stop Poem
One of the other email lists I was on was discussing social "gag orders"; some observations I made during a writing exercise tied in with that.
It's All for Me Web
The tribulations of getting hooked on the Internet and not having any money.
The Emotional Olympics
A rewrite of one of the poem I had written years before, but lost.
Dawn of the Living Dead
With the first version of this I experienced my first rejection from Real Change. It was immensely reassuring -- I now knew that they wouldn't print just anything I wrote, it had to be good. And when I rewrote the poem, it was accepted.
I created some seasonal cards for the gallery -- using Pagemaker and a copier and scavenged card stock. This was one of the poems I selected for Kwanzaa.
This was the other card I created for Kwanzaa. Along with "Ground" it is also one of the poems most often included in StreetWrites group readings.
Winter Solstice
A woman came into the gallery looking for a Solstice card. I told her i'd make her one. She never came back for it, and i still have it. I'm rather glad about that.
Christmas 1995
Most of us survived the holidays by staying in the Galley all day and making art. Lots of art.
Quantum States of Mary
Still my personal favorite of all of my poems.
Shells and Seeds
This was another attempt to combine art with poetry. The art has not survived, but the poem has.
Bus Stop Story
This was the first exercise I did in Writelab. I have used it as a Spoken Word piece, but I haven't been able to get it published yet.
A poetry seed that first germinated in the mid-1980's but took until 1995 to sprout.

The period of October 1995-January 1995 was a period of immense growth for me, personally and as a writer. Lithium brought me back to life: I could connect with the world, with other people, I could complete projects, I had the "fire inside" again. Becoming homeless knocked all my self-defense mechanisms into the gutter and, without that shell, I discovered true self-esteem. My attention was directed outward instead of caught up in a whirl around the inside of my head, and I had found a previously unknown land on "the invisible side of the street." My poems, which had been predominantly light and lyrical, developed grit.

After getting housing, I continued to work with the grassroots homeless empowerment groups, including Real Change, and to include the same issues in my poetry.

Street Poems, February 1996-Present
Most Often Requested
What Is Family?
The Map Is Not the Territory
Survival Program
Another Night Before Christmas
Running with the Wolves
Bad Habits
one more alternative version of Pastor Neimoller
Bad Things
a sample of a certain kind of Open Mic poetry. [Satire Warning]
and we think there may be peace

Others (most recent first)
There is joy: a poem for "Uncle Bob" Santos
Thoughts on My Mortality
Midshipmen of the Heart
Why Hope?
On Wes's Birthday, 2001
December 20, 2000
History in Seattle
When Grownups Dance
Be Small
Mother's Day in the Tents
Children's Hour in Colorado, 1999
for Karen
an appreciation of Karen Dawson
Father's Day 1996
included in the StreetWrites Survivor Poetry collection
Welcome to the Making
Written for a baby shower at the Church of Mary Magdalene in 1996
Veteran's Day 1996
Faith, Hope and Charity
included in the StreetWrites artsEdge reading 1997
Pantoum, May 17, 1997
Fly Anyway
written for the WHEEL Homeless Women's Forum 1998
Your many kindnesses
for Marion
for Michele's Birthday
Mother's Day 1999
The Newt Is Too Much With Us, parody/satire
Red Tape Come Again No More
Dancing With Shadows
In the Small Hours
Song for Wes
How Cute Is Wes
ALF Does Antony
(the funeral of the first Urban Rest Stop)
Street Music / Street Dreams

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