Tag Archives: poet

Stranger 68/100 – Shima

100 Strangers - ShimaStranger 68/100 – Shima

“We’re from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, so we’ve come a long way.”

Meet Shima.

“So, we’re here for this convention (Termis, a medical convention focusing on regenerative medicine) as poets… we’re spoken word poets. We’re doing poems on stem cell therapy and regenerative tissue engineering.”

Now how does poetry relate to that? “We write poetry about that. We have a doctor, a patron of the arts person, who’s brought us here kind of on his dollar. He just kind of fed us material and literature from his practice and we wrote poems based on those documents.”

Are you trying to be as interesting as possible? “{laughs} Yeah, we ration it. {laughs} But, yeah, so that’s why we’re here.”

What advice would you give to your younger self? “To my younger self, I would say… speak my truth from my guts. Because I think that’s the one thing I didn’t do very often when I was like in my early twenties.”

What woke you up? “A massive mental health crisis actually… and then I recovered through poetry. So, I just kept writing, got gigs, got jobs, furthered my skills with creative writing instruction as well as spoken word.”

So it was writing poetry that helped… “Yeah, the writing and the performance aspect. The performance aspect is becoming more and more prominent and prevalent in my life.”

How would your friends describe you? “My friends would describe me as strong, generous, probably like a little bit moody, moody is the thing, outspoken… and I guess wise. My pen name is Dwennimmen, it’s a West African name, from a dictionary of symbols called Adinkra. It means strength, humility, learning and wisdom. That’s why I chose it as a pen name.”

What is your biggest challenge now? “My biggest challenge is to cobble some kind of a living out my skills and education. I’m a spoken word poet, and there’s not a lot of paper in that.”

You just gotta grab that big spoken word poetry money… “Yeah, you know, I just gotta reach out and take it. {laughs} It’s an interesting thing trying to create a job description out of that or trying to find a role in my local economy that will keep those skills sharp and keep me rejuvenated and healthy. Because that is something that pulled me out of my crisis… it’s like I have to keep doing it.”

Technical Notes: This stranger encounter was a comedy of technical errors. About a third the way in, I realized that my camera was set to f11 aperture. Those pictures came out dark and flat. While trying to hastily fix the camera settings, I somehow switched the camera to manual mode. Then I ended up taking the rest of the photos in whatever settings were already dialed in which produced overexposed images. I was sick when I got home and discovered this. However, I was able to convert this image to black and white, dial down the exposure and add contrast and coloring. Ironically, all of those errors forced me to be more creative in Lightroom and helped me produce an image that I wouldn’t have otherwise created.

Stranger 66/100 – Doug

Stranger-66–Doug.jpgWhat brings you uptown? “Just homelessness…”

Meet Doug.

How long have you been homeless? “This stint… I’ve been about three months out here.”

What advice would you give to your younger self? “Stay in school… I stayed through high school just enough to graduate, and then I had to get away… from my father. My mother had passed, and I got away from daddy. Anyway, I’ve just been on edge since then.”

What is your biggest challenge right now? “My biggest challenge is staying warm. It’s nothing to keep fed in Charlotte if you’re homeless. They have so many soup kitchens, so many ministries that feed the homeless.”

“Finding steady, gainful employment that pays me what I’m worth. I can go to a labor pool and work for $7.50 an hour. I’m not going to do that… been there, done that. I just would like to have a job where I can make enough money to support myself, take care of myself, pay my bills and survive.”

“I’m from the old school, Dan. I was born in ’65…”

I was born in ’68… “Ok, well, we’re in the same generation. I’m an old school… you go knock on doors. ‘Hey Mr. so and so. How are you doing? Can I fill out an application?’ It’s not like that anymore. You know, you’ve got to go online, and I’m very computer illiterate. And I’m dyslexic in a way, so to go online and fill out these applications is just somehow overwhelming for my mind, but that’s something I’m working towards.”

I would think it’s hard to get a job while you’re homeless. “I don’t even have a phone. I fill out an application… phone number… none. Come on, who’s going to hire that?”

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about the homeless? “I wouldn’t call it a misconception, but just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean you’re mentally deranged. What I don’t like is, Dan, when people perceive you and label you. You know, they see me homeless and they perceive me to be a degenerate, wacko, someone who doesn’t have any ambition to want to better themselves.”

There’s some people who say you shouldn’t give money to the homeless, and there’s other people who say you should. Why is there such a disagreement? “Because of the homeless that are out here, who are not mentally ill, they’re 99.8% alcoholics or drug addicts. Which I’m an alcoholic myself… I drink everyday if I can. You just got to be able to handle your disease as it is and maintain yourself. As far as giving money to the homeless, that’s not the way. Because 99.9% of the time, you’re throwing it away. You might as well set it on fire and throw it in the street. Because most of us are alcoholic and drug addicts, and what money we do get, we’re going to spend on alcohol and drugs.”

What is your passion? “Writing…”

“In Arianna’s Eyes
In Arianna’s eyes, I see light and hope
I see a woman and friend
I see a cold, hard reflection of a man I could never pretend”

{ Doug recited the entire poem, but didn’t want me to print the entire work here because he hadn’t copyrighted it yet. }

“It’s all a matter of perception and how you look at life and how you perceive your situation. A lot of these jokers out here, Dan, they’ve given up. They’ve just thrown in the towel. I’m only 52. I figure I’ve got 20 good years left if the good lord’s willing… But it was good talking to you man.”

Note: As a general rule, I haven’t approached homeless people for this project to avoid exploiting them in any way. In this case, Doug reached out to me suggesting that I should profile the homeless people of Charlotte.

Technical Notes: Doug was sitting in a poorly lit bus shelter. It wasn’t an option to move somewhere with better light because he had so many belongings with him. He was extremely backlit, so I used a strong reflector to completely light up his face.