Voices from the Street

They are Miriam’s Poets.

They gather each week in the basement of the Western Presbyterian Church on the corner of 24th Street and Virginia Avenue to share original literary masterpieces.

“The earth is my home. I don’t have any doors or walls,” wrote Gregory Hill, in a piece called “I Have a Home.”

But these poets are homeless.

Ruth Dickey, the workshop’s director, said Miriam’s Poets gather after receiving gratis breakfast at Miriam’s Kitchen.

More than 100 people donate their time daily in the church’s kitchen, and many GW students volunteer and attend the poetry readings regularly, Dickey said.

“GW students are a significant part of our audience,” Dickey said. “It’s an exciting way for volunteers to see those who eat there in a different role.”

Students from Latinos for Progress and the Newman Center volunteered at the kitchen Wednesday morning, serving grits, blueberry muffins and scrambled eggs.

“I think it’s a really good experience for GW students to get involved in,” said GW volunteer Tara McDonough. “Sometimes they forget there’s something outside GWorld.”

“It’s different than I thought but more fun than I thought,” said Jenny Burns, a volunteer from the Newman Center, GW’s Catholic student center.

Greg Ladislaw, another GW student volunteer who has attended readings by Miriam’s Poets on several occasions, said volunteers can better understand the plight of the homeless when their struggle is described in writing.

“It’s hard to understand sometimes because I’m not in that situation,” Ladislaw said.

The poets have read at Georgetown University, GW and the Kennedy Center. In celebration of the 15th anniversary of Miriam’s Kitchen, the in-house poets will host a reading at Georgetown’s Barnes and Noble Bookstore, located at 3040 M Street Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m.

Dickey said she thinks other GW students should attend the reading because they might recognize the readers as the same homeless people they pass in the streets daily.

“In that respect, GW would gain a lot,” Dickey said.

At the Barnes and Noble reading, Miriam’s Poets will share works from their anthology, “Thoughts After Breakfast,” which contains numerous original pieces written and drawn by individuals in the group. Dickey said the essays, poems and short stories in the anthology each have unique themes. But she said the poetry and artwork share a similar tone.

“One of the things that struck me with the people here is how many feel the deep pain of voicelessness,” Dickey said. “People walk past them and pretend like they don’t exist everyday. They feel profoundly isolated and silenced.”

But as Miriam’s Poets they articulate these repressed feelings in a positive and influential medium, Dickey said.

“Writing gives them respect and dignity, which can be incredibly powerful,” she said.

Dickey said she does not attribute this solely to the poetry. She said the writing workshop makes some homeless people want to improve themselves and seek housing in shelters.

“For anyone who writes, they know it can be a transformational and powerful vehicle,” Dickey said.

She said the written and spoken word conveys a new perspective to the audience.

“It helps us remember that the homeless are human,” Dickey said.

The homeless gain something too – a voice.

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