Voices of the Street

I’ve never really been much for poetry. As a former journalist, I think it has something to do with an aversion to saying something obliquely when it could instead be said directly. Accordingly, I don’t have much of a vocabulary or depth of experience when it comes to reading poems.

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Still, I found myself struck and extremely moved while reading the special literary issueMegaphone, “Voices on the Street” that came out at the beginning of this month. Megaphone is Vancouver’s street paper, which is sold by vendors on the Downtown Eastside who buy the paper for 75 cents and sell it for two dollars, giving them $1.25 in their own pocket for each issue they sell. The special literary issue, which includes some of the best black and white photos from last year’s Hope in Shadows, sells for $5.

The writing inside, which was produced at the magazine’s creative writing workshops atOnSite, is by turns gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, hopeful and insightful. While reading the issue, it occurred to me that this is perhaps one of the best ways poetry can be used. In other contexts, I find poetry to be bemusing at best and frustrating at worst, especially when it seems as though the author is trying to be purposefully obtuse.

All the poetry in this issue, though, is simple and heartfelt. The meaning of each poem rings clear. While that doesn’t make a lot of it easy to read, as a result, the issue provides a startlingly clear window into a world that many of us walk through every day without really attempting to understand what it’s like. One of my personal favourite poems in the issue, reproduced below, actually addresses that exact issue.

What Do You See?
by Karen Stone

When you see us, are you afraid of us?

Or are you afraid of what you see in us?

Do we remind you of human frailty or endurance?

Do we scare you because you know that society

Of which you are always to be a part

Is set up in a way that is safe and secure for you?

Well, when you are forced to walk by

Sometimes stop and really look at us.

See our strength

Our endurance

Think about what our stories are

Look at how the abused, rejected, exploited and ignored

still hold onto their humanity.

If you ever want to see desperation mixed with hope

Go to a park and listen, watch, feel, give encouragement

to the homeless.

Reach inside and see us in yourself

And if you don't like what you see

Ask us how you can help