Spare Change News

Spare Change News Poems: An Anthology of Homeless People and those Touched by Homelessness
Editors: Lee Varon and Mark Goldfinger
Ibbetson Street Press (2018)
http://ibbetsonpress.com

Review by Doug Holder

In the introduction to the new anthology Spare Change News Poems… editors Lee Varon and Marc Golfinger write:

” The Spare Change News newspaper was founded in 1992 by a group of homeless individuals and a housed advocate. Since its inception, Spare Change News has worked to elevate the voices of the homeless and economically disadvantaged people in the Boston Area.

In these pages you will find the poetry of many people who are who are homeless, or who have been touched by homelessness in some way. You will find the poetry of veterans, of those with mental health issues, or those struggling with substance abuse disorder. You will find poems written by incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people.”

Personally– I have a real connection to the paper not only for its laudable mission of giving the homeless a voice (and in some cases a chance to make a living by selling the paper),  but years ago I was an arts reporter under the managing editor at the time Linda Larson–and assisted the poetry editor Don DiVecchio. I worked closely with late assistant editor Cynthia Baron, and former editor Marc Goldinger, as well. I learned a lot during my tenure with all these people.  That being said, the poetry you will find in this anthology is not New Yorker-style work. It can be raw as the streets, visceral, heartbreaking and even heartwarming.

There are many fine poets, with fine poems in this collection like: Martin Espada, Marge Piercy, Alexis Ivy, the late Sarah Hannah and many more. In a poem by the editor Lee Varon  titled “Colleen,”  the poet uses colors to vividly portray a young woman doomed by her torrid love affair with heroin:

Heroin is white
      but your lips are blue
and blue is seeping into the room
where you passed out last week,
the room
where your head hit the floor,
blue dust is wafting from the ceiling,
oozing from the floorboards…

In Martin Espada’s poem ” How We Could Haved Lived and Died This Way,” Espada quotes Whitman,

Not songs of loyalty alone are these,
but songs of insurrection also,
For I am the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel the world
over.

Here in hardscrabble detail Espada, like Whitman, takes it all in-and sings a song for the marginal rebels who survive or don’t survive the vagaries of the street:

I see the dark -skinned bodies falling in the street as their ancestors fell
before the whip and steel, the last blood pooling, the last breath spitting.
I see the immigrant street vendor flashing his wallet to the cops,
shot so many times there are bullet holes in the side of his feet.
I see the man hawking a fistful of cigarettes, the cop’s chokehold that makes his wheezing
lungs stop wheezing forever. I am in the crowd, at the window,
kneeling beside the body left on the asphalt for hours, covered in a sheet.

From reading this poetry it is evident that there is tragedy, and beauty on these mean streets  and perhaps. ..salvation.