Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hobo Poetry Project

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post that talked about neat poetry opportunities in Southeast Florida.  Yesterday, I went to the The Hobo Code Poetry and Art project.

We began by talking about the hobo in popular culture and the culture of the Great Depression which gave rise to the hobo culture.  We talked about the hobo code and the symbols that many of them used to let people know what to expect as they approached towns and houses; for examples of those signs, see this website.

Much of this news wasn't new to me; in fact, a few years ago, I wrote this post that talked about seeing the documentary Riding the Rails.  I did pick up one tidbit about Jack London, who was a hobo before he was a writer.  He credits his hobo experiences with teaching him how to tell a good story; when he was a hobo, it was his ability to tell a good story to the lady of the house which would determine whether he got food/shelter or not.

It was interesting to have this conversation about the hobo culture with my friend who is an immigrant from India beside me.  She said, "These men made a choice to live this way?"  And then she said, "This is a very first world choice, it seems to me."

The workshop leader gave us two pages of symbols, and we talked a bit about them.  And then, finally, the poetry writing part of the 2 hour workshop.  We were supposed to use the symbols and to write a poem.  The ways that we did this were up to us.  We had art supplies too. 

It was fun to see the ways we responded.  Some people incorporated the symbols in place of words in a poem.  Others had the symbol as background.

For example, I was pulled to the sign that had a cross that meant "Talk religion, get food."  And I was struck by the stories of Mulligan Stew; at the end of the day, hobos would gather at the hobo camp and contribute what they'd gotten (a potato here, a carrot there, a lump of lard--all into the pot!) into a communal stew.  I have had church stuff on the brain, as I've written a post about Saint Brigid, who also multiplied food, for the Living Lutheran site and I've been thinking about the food miracles of Jesus.  So I drew the cross and wrote parts of poems in each quadrant.

We can turn in our work later--March 1 is the deadline--and you don't have to have attended to the workshop to submit work.  I plan to play with photography:  I have a vision of a cross made with a carrot and a potato.

I loved the workshop, and I fell in love with the public library all over again.  There were groups working in study rooms, including a group of young teen girls working on some kind of dance routine.  There was a HUD workshop happening.  There was the poetry workshop.  There were several huge rooms full of computers for community use.  There was a woman handing out information about transportation upgrades planned for a central corridor.  All that on top of the regular resources of books, periodicals, and videos.

After that workshop, I went out with the friends who came to the workshop with me.  We went to a Vietnamese Pho restaurant that one friend wanted to try--what a treat!

I drove us all there.  One friend saw my memoir manuscript that I have in the car so that I'll remember to take it to Mepkin Abbey with me.  She asked if she could see it, and I said, "Sure."

She was so excited about the possibilities of this memoir.  She has said more than once that she sees me as the next Kathleen Norris--ah, from her lips to God's ears!  I'm happy to get this encouragement.

What I loved about this workshop is that it inspired me in all kinds of ways.  I could see adapting this assignment for classroom use or for a different kind of workshop.  I thought about all the other ways that signs and signifiers work in our culture.  I thought about National Poetry Month and possibilities there.

But most of all, I was happy to see so many different people at the workshop; one man even brought his two children in the hopes that they'd be inspired to love writing.  Hurrah!  And I was happy to see so many people at the library.  What a great resource--and how wonderful that people are using it.

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