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From Homelessness to Reading Poems at the UN

By Harriet Staff

Here’s a cool story about Juan Fernandez Rua in Mercury News.

A sample:

Poetry had long played a role in the life of Juan Fernandez Rua. When he worked as a banker. As a drug counselor. And most especially when he was homeless, or “living out in the open,” as he prefers to call it.

But it was the poetry that always kept him going. He studied it as a young man in New York City and has written about 500 poems, by his own estimation.

For Fernandez, or “J” as he is known by friends and acquaintances, life took an entirely new turn on Oct. 17 when he returned to New York from his current home in Oakland to read one of his recent poems, “A Real Poem,” at the United Nations.

“I wasn’t expecting it — it was a big surprise for me,” said Fernandez, 61. “I had been writing for 40 years, and all of a sudden I was invited to read a poem that I had written a year earlier. I had read my poems at universities, cafes and even bars in my life, but never at the United Nations, so it was exciting.”

Fernandez received his invitation to read “A Real Poem” at the U.N. from the Fourth World Movement, an international antipoverty organization, to coincide with the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year). Fernandez’s poem came to the attention of the Fourth World Movement after it was published in Street Spirit, a Bay Area newspaper dedicated to the issues of poverty, homelessness and human rights.

Fernandez’s days “living out in the open” influenced the writing of “A Real Poem.”

“When you live on the street as I did for five to six years, you meet people who are sharing that experience with you,” he said. “You meet some good people, you meet some kind people, people who were kind to me, people who were like brothers to me.”

Juan Gonzalez, the poem’s main character, who dies while sleeping outside on a bench, is fictional. Still, he is every bit one of Fernandez’s “brothers.”

“I also knew people who died on the street,” Fernandez said. “Juan Gonzalez represents that person who died on the street.”

Thanks to help received from Oakland’s St. Mary’s Center, Fernandez now lives in a federally subsided apartment.

“They helped me advocate for myself,” Fernandez said of the staff at St. Mary’s. “They helped me get medical care; they had information I didn’t have before.”

Full article here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, November 19th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.