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

[dropcap] A[/dropcap] 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.