The Cold Night and the World on Fire

                                                       I want to
tell you the boy and the man eat food
encircled by the warmth of bodies.
I want to turn the cold night into a feast.
I will tell you I am praying.

—Kathy Engel, “Now I Pray”, Poetry, January 2016

Sub-zero temperatures always make me wonder how those living outdoors, or in inadequate shelter, manage to survive. The last week has been all about hot water bottles and wool socks, turning up the thermostat, and accepting that we must (and can afford to do so) during the worst of winter. Meanwhile, according to 2014 data from the National Coalition for the Homeless, approximately 700 homeless people will die from hypothermia each year, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. A truly dreadful number, especially given that ours is one of the richest nations on earth.

As some of you know, I’m particularly interested in the ways that poetry appears in public spaces, especially when it takes the form of projected text (which my ongoing urban renga collaboration continues to explore). When this photo caught my eye last week, I was drawn to the Lawrence Ferlinghetti quote, but upon closer inspection I see that the organization responsible for this agit-poetry is UNDERCOVER SF.

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Here’s a portion of their mission:

UNDERCOVER is an art action to alert, provoke, provide, and ultimately push to erase the homeless humanitarian crisis.

UNDERCOVER will provide a poem, protection and call to action.

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I persist in thinking that art is necessary, even in a world where crises like homelessness are immediate and concrete. Poetry clarifies and shows us things worth paying attention to; shows us how to be with each other and ourselves in this world. Many poems will serve this purpose even without becoming successful pieces of art because it’s the poetic process that matters: the observing, thinking, reflecting and refining along the path to making a poem or other art.

The journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates said in an interview that poetry has played a profound role in shaping his writing process and ideas, which nowadays come to us in articles and a recent award-winning memoir about the realities of being black in America: “Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away, and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.”

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Wake up, The World is on Fire!
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Generate collective joy in the face of
collective
doom.
Instead of trying to
escape reality
Plunge into the flesh of the world.

Sing hello!
Secretly liberate any being you see
in a cage.
See eternity, not the other night,
but tonight.

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It’s a form of rebellion to take time with your thoughts and ideas, and to compose the real material of life into lines and poems. The March 21 Day Poetry Challenge lasts three weeks, and begins March 1. Join me!

poetry matters. join the conversation.

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poetry matters. join the conversation.

join my community

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