Thursday, November 11, 2010

Song of Tent City

In late October 2010, I approached Tent City 3 (Seattle's homeless encampment run by SHARE/WHEEL) with the request to join their community as poet-in-residence. They asked me to write up my request and, after doing so and delivering it in person, took my request to a camp-wide meeting and voted on the idea. They came back to me 2 weeks later with an answer. Yes. They said yes. Yes!!! How thrilled I was. To be trusted and welcomed in. I'm certain this opportunity will feed me and teach my poet in tremendous ways. I look forward to working and walking with this community in this way.

Starting December 2010, I will live, work, listen, dialog, write and collaborate with the residents of Tent City 3. I'll install my handmade mini-yurt as a reading room, set up a small camping tent to live in and establish a recognizable interface (a poetry desk) for dialog, all the while assisting where I can with the general operations of the camp. I hope, while I'm there, to listen, respond and give voice to the people in camp. I suspect I will learn so much more than I could ever teach and gain more than I can give, but I go in with an desire wish to serve.

To truly experience the world, one must be fully in it and of it. This is the message we hear from every poet, in every poem. Go live. Live fully. Join life and live. You can see it in the few lines here:
To be alive: not just the carcass/But the spark--Greogry Orr
The birds and their chatter overwhelm me/with feeling--Han Shan
Do not go gentle into that good night--Dylan Thomas
You must take living so seriously/that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees--Nazim Hikmet

I've fulfilled several public and private artist residencies now, both self-created and established. My work goes beyond what most people think of as poetry. In fulfilling a poetry residency, it's rare for me to sit at a desk and write all day. I do write and research and read a lot, but I also spend a great deal of time meeting people, sketching, dreaming up public art projects and installing them. I like taking poetry to places it's never been or has long since forgotten. I like using poetry as a vehicle for dialog and community. Place is as important as time to me. I inhabit spaces, find ways to breathe life into them. I listen to them, draw them, write on them, live in them, work in them. The community that builds up around and envelopes me in these places becomes my teacher and my meaning. It helps me live more fully. To it then I owe my own sense of community.

Walt Whitman, in "Song of Myself", raised up the ordinary citizen of the US. He said that each and every one of us, each self, was a part of a larger Self, an ongoing and all-inclusive entity. He showed us how all things and beings commune and connect. While I haven't seen it clearly and don't yet know it fully, I must believe then that Seattle is indelibly connected to and part of Tent City. Where are those verses? Are they written? I go in search of the strains ringing through Tent City. Song of Tent City

A community is a unified body of individuals. If we fence part of ourselves off, we suffer from a split. We suffer on both sides of the fence. Walling off pieces of ourselves keeps us from integrity, keeps us from happiness. We must go back now and pick up the pieces, we must weave them back in. Here in Seattle, hundreds of bits have fallen away, have been walled off. If we work together, we can pick the pieces up, person by person, pair by pair, neighborhood by neighborhood. I offer myself as a camp-to-community interface and invite you to do the same. The more connections we make, the fewer voids there will be. We each have something to offer and receive. Let's realize Whitman's vision and make each member an equal participant.

I started the year as A Corporate Poet. I served for one month as poet-in-residence at NBBJ Architecture and Design Firm. Before that, I was The Poetess of Green Lake. I offer myself now to Tent City. Certainly they, as well as any community, need the poet. "This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,It is for the wicked just same as the righteous, I make appointments with all, I will not have a single person slighted or left away…" (Whitman, Song of Myself).

Tent City 3, Seattle's homeless encampment, shifts and moves every three months, from church parking lot to church parking lot. On Thanksgiving weekend, they move again from Saint Mark's Cathedral on Capitol Hill to Maple Leaf Lutheran Church in Meadowbrook.

This blog will provide a place for project updates and information. My experiences at Tent City will take the form of writing, images and performances. It's too early to know what will be produced or what accomplished. The most important thing will be to remain open and to experience and share.

I applied to Sprout, a quarterly fundraiser at The Fremont Abbey in Seattle, and was invited to present my project to a full house (125 people) on 5 November 2010. After a home-cooked meal and a chance to hear six artists present their work, each diner filled out their ballot and voted for one project to receive support. The money collected, $20 per person collected at the door, went to the artist with the most votes. I'm thrilled to report my project was selected to receive the $1000 award. Sprout II was so well attended they were able to give out a second award of $200 to Topstache. Besides being a terrific event with great food and lively conversation, the event brought together a loving group of arts supporters. I can't think of anything better for the local arts scene! The award I received will make a huge impact on my project. It means there are funds to cover materials and living, so I can devote myself to Song of Tent City full-time. Thank you to everyone who came out and supported the artists at Sprout!

Open Brainstorming Sessions
I'm reaching out now to anyone who wants to talk about my project or offer advice or point me in the right direction or lend a hand or offer a skill. I'm holding several, open, drop-in/drop-out, brainstorming sessions: (1) Wednesday 11/17 from 7-10PM at Studio-Current on Capitol Hill, (2) Thursday 11/18 from 6-8PM The Fremont Abbey and (3) Friday 11/19 (9-5PM) in my studio #210 at the Space Building in Fremont. Would love to talk to you for any amount of time. Thanks in advance for your interest and input.

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