As part of the Housing the Future 2.0 program, Creative Santa Fe worked with three local artists to respond to a collection of local affordable housing stories through their mediums. The result was a song, a poem, and a theatrical performance that narrated those lived experiences and deepened our community’s connection to the housing issue in powerful and creative new ways.
One of the artists chosen for this project was Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, a local poet and journalist who has a history in covering local affordable housing and homelessness issues through his writing. For the event, Darryl authored the poem ‘Contemplating Homelessness‘. There was absolute silence as he read to a crowd of nearly two hundred attendees at Tumbleroot Brewery, all were captivated by his words. We reached out to Darryl after the event to dive a little deeper into his process of writing and sharing, learning more about his inspiration and takeaways from this project.
Which stories and experiences inspired your poem Contemplating Homelessness performed at ‘Housing the Future 2.0’?
There were plenty of moving stories in the collection of first-person narratives that I received describing the housing crises in Santa Fe. I was touched by the tide of voices – and the willingness to come forward talking about what happens when “the market” and economic forces impact vulnerable lives. The stories set a tone of seriousness and implicit vulnerability. They triggered memories of my own story – which I briefly described in my presentation. In 2012, or thereabouts, I received an eviction notice because the landlord said the apt. needed “mold remediation.” I don’t know that he wasn’t right! But finding myself with a month to find a new apt. was scary. Furthermore at the very mention of the word “mold…. everything became a litigious nightmare. You think everything is easily worked out, reasonable, fair-minded, then something can happen and everything revolves around economics, law, and peril. The stories by my fellow Santa Fe locals did all have this in common. They all touched the fear that accompanied the thought of having nowhere to stay – whether they specifically addressed looking for a rental, job loss, mold, a living wage, or skyrocketing rents. Hence, the theme of my poem “contemplating homelessness.”
What are some of your biggest takeaways from the process of writing this poem and performing it?
I had a few notes and metaphors for a possible poem on homelessness lying around before I was commissioned by Creative Santa Fe. The commission provided the impetus to pull the poem together. Thanks for that! I think the audience at the Housing the Future 2 gathering was admirably engaged. I’m basically one of those complex and literary poets ( which more accurately means ‘I aspire to be a complex and literary poet’ ) coming out of a literary tradition. I call myself a performance artist (in various ways); but I don’t call myself a performance poet! I think there is less of a distinction between spoken word and literary poetry than people tend to assume. But covering this question will have to wait till later. In the meantime, I have a piece of advice to literary poets reading syntactically complex poetry in a big room to a big and diverse crowd. Take your time. Do not start rushing through the verses. Don’t let fear or impatience make you speed up! I personally look on every reading like an experiment with forming a relationship with an audience. I think we had a successful relationship.
Do you think the arts are important to integrate into the conversations around affordable housing in Santa Fe? Why or why not?
It would be REALLY interesting to ask people involved in the day-to-day business surrounding law, affordable housing, and real estate this question! Many, many years ago (before living in Santa Fe) I told my landlord that I was a writer. He answered me “Really? I used to love Hemingway. Now I hate it.” Did he mean that the arts used to be important in his life? But now they were superfluous?
I would like to hear from landlords and developers whether they believe the arts can help them enter the conversation. And I would like to hear from tenants -rights advocates, housing lawyers, and others who deal with housing bureaucracy and legal minutia whether the arts have helped them.
I think everyone feels better if they at least feel understood. The arts can be good at this. That is, the arts can put people in an imaginative and creative space where their perspective is acknowledged while simultaneously other perspectives exist.
My perspective is that of a poet/writer/performance artist who often addresses social issues –so I tend to feel that the arts can always have a social impact. I didn’t say a transformative impact – not necessarily, but who knows? If a poem I write convinces or compels one landlord to have sympathy, take a philosophical attitude, and not to raise rents, or convinces one lawyer, one property owner, or one tenant to behave in a conscientious way (even when the system rewards legal mercilessness and connivance ) then I have achieved something.