Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Song of Tent City - December 2010

I approached Tent City 3 on Capitol Hill in Seattle on 20 October 2010 requesting to be their poet-in-residence for the month of December. I was welcomed in and given a tour. They then asked me to write up my proposal so the community could review and vote on it. Tent City 3 is presently at St Marks Episcopal Cathedral on Capitol Hill, but moves to Maple Leaf Lutheran Church in late November, so I'd be joining them in Maple Leaf. I proposed to live in my own mini-yurt and to work alongside the other volunteers in camp. My main task will be to listen, respond and give voice to the residents. I'd also like to identify ways in which I might work with residents to gift something back to the community.

Song of Tent City references Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" written and self-published in 1855. "Song of Myself" was the major poem in Leaves of Grass a collection Whitman edited until his death in the late 1800s. It was the new American epic, a free verse poem cataloguing all of American life. It presented a search for the self, a search for the boundaries of self. It addressed the communion of all peoples and things. It embraced the coarse along with the fine, the weak and the strong, the body and the soul, offering poetic elevation to everything ordinary. There are, I argue, still a few strains missing. It's these missing strains I go in search of, the ones ringing through Tent City. What do they sound like? How might they find expression? As a song, a poem, an installation, a performance, a craft? I don't know, but I intend to find out. The most I can do is to put myself out there and listen for it.

I agree with Whitman, to truly experience the world one must be fully in it and of it. That's why I want to set up my ger (yurt) and work and live with the community. What other way is there to know it? The democracy of the poet must know no bounds. This endeavor is as much about the growth of the poet as it is about the voice of the people. I have no doubt I will take on more than I can give and learn so much more than I could ever teach, but I know too that this is my way. This is what I have to give. Myself.

"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"

The poet too is democratic. I was once The Poetess at Green Lake. I was later adopted by the global architectural firm, NBBJ. I go now to Tent City. What ever kept me from walking through the gates into the community at Tent City? I do not know. What keeps you from doing so?

While listening for the Song of Tent City, I plan to offer some sort of ongoing art and gift-making opportunity. When we make art, we express our experience. When we make gifts, we become parts of the community. I go then with open eyes and ears, eager to learn the needs of the camp, to facilitate a dialog and arts community. Tent City, as much as any community, needs a poet. I offer myself as an interface and invite you to do the same. This project hopes to show that the unsheltered and the sheltered each have something to give. Strengthening our community begins by valuing each member as a participant. Finding ways to value ourselves and one another, regardless of our needs or skills, enables us to trust one another and form bonds.

I've been invited to present Song of Tent City at Sprout II on Friday November 5th at The Fremont Abbey. All in attendance vote for the project they like best to receive the money raised at the door ($20 door fee includes a home-cooked meal and a vote). Please attend. This event sells out, so get your tickets online asap. If you can't make the Sprout! dinner event, check in here for info on the brainstorming sessions I'll be hosting in November and December. I want to put all kinds of art and intellectual minds together and begin to dialogue about what might be possible. Mostly, I'd like to open the floor for idea sharing and dialogue.

Since Tent City 3 began operating in 2000, it has occupied more than 30 sites around King County. Tent City stays on private land in one location for 90 days before they relocate. As of this posting, the camp is located at St Marks on Capitol Hill. On 27 November, it will move to Maple Leaf Lutheran Church. There are 9,000 homeless people living in Seattle. 2,000 are living on the streets on a given night.

Greater Seattle Cares
Municipal Research and Services Center for WA
The One Night Count
Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness
Seattle Gov / Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness
SHARE/WHEEL self-managing, grassroots organization of homeless people
U Utah Phillips



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