Homeless Poets Inspire Local Artists COD Painters Turn Words into Pictures

Article excerpt


I have fallen too many times and got up

But still wasn't standing

The world was demanding a new me

But I was too busy getting high

As an eagle, not yet landing.

My eyes were bloodshot red

Sitting in a cloud of smoke.

A 40-ounce in my hand and dreaming of a fantasy world

As phony as the Pope.

I stayed planted to the ground too scared to fly,

But wasn't too scared to put that blunt

In my mouth and get high.

- Craig McKenzie, resident of Higgins House, Chicago

Art and poetry are building bridges between two groups whose paths otherwise may never cross: suburban artists and homeless poets from Chicago.

"We were able to bring two communities together," said College of DuPage art instructor Jennifer Hereth, who worked with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to find writings to inspire her students. "(They) learned a lot from one another and gave hope to one another to carry throughout our lives."

The relationship culminated in a show last month at a Chicago coffee house, where the homeless poets read their works in front of a backdrop of works by College of DuPage art students.

"It's a gift that goes both ways," said student artist Liz Zielinski of Clarendon Hills. Her painting "Too Scared to Fly" was inspired by an untitled poem that takes a very straightforward look at drug use.

The poems are not all so bleak.

Many look at their hopes for the future or merely describe the everyday experiences of the homeless writers.

And while these stories sound worlds away from the suburbs, the artists note that the two groups are closer than one might believe.

"It really brought everybody together so that we feel like we're one," Zielinski said.

Putting a visual experience into words is hard enough, but the painters said they were intimidated by the idea of creating an image to accompany such personal poetry.

"This was something I wanted to do because of the challenge and the fact that I would have to express what I thought of another person's poetry," said art student Barbara Lipkin from Naperville. …