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Poetry of the Streets

Monday, July 16, 2012

Area native Tim Hale makes his life on the streets by his own choosing, getting by with his guitar and his poems.
The almost-forgotten and ancient tradition of the troubadour is alive on the streets of California. His name is Tim Hale, 30, and he's a traveling poet. He recites his poetry and sells his self-published book at the Farmer's Markets, and has lately been doing motivational speaking at a Santa Barbara high school. His poetry not only helps him survive on the streets from one city to the next, but it's also a way to give back.

"It's about putting something out to get something," Hale said.

He left his home of Rembrandt, Iowa, a small town of two hundred people, where as a child, he had a cow and would bail hay. He said he left because the environment didn't support his intellect, or creativity, and the people would try and break his will.

"No culture, a lot of methamphetamine, a lot of depression," he said of the time. "People watch six hours of TV every night, get home, watch TV, and go to jobs they hate. The complete opposite of who I am."

Hale describes himself as a traveling poet, not as homeless, even though he doesn't have a house and sleeps outside with just his large, ghost white wolf dog, named Puppy Wuppy.

"The word 'homeless' has so many definitions, it's like the words 'God' and 'love.' In Hale's years of homelessness, he's never begged or asked for anything for free, he said.

On a cool Farmer's Market evening recently, Hale stands on the curb facing the vendors. His backpack sits behind a garbage can, while Puppy Wuppy lays curled up at his feet.

Even though she's asleep, she gets more attention than Hale. With many people on a first name basis with Puppy, they wake her up every few minutes to say hello and give her hugs.

Hale stands patiently in a ruffled shirt, and an old-style hat, waiting for his moment to address a pretty blonde girl in all black.

"Do you like poetry," he asks in a deep, polite voice. She says yes and swoons as he asks her to choose a topic from a list that includes love and alcohol. Then he reads her one of his poems.

She seems happy to hear it. After buying his book for five dollars, she stands around as a group of six teenagers from Calvary Baptist Church come up to join the conversation in an attempt to convert Hale. An emotional group discussion on the topic of sin, religion, and God is sparked for a moment until the frustrated teens depart.

Hale seems to have a skill pulling in the random passerby for a quick poetry recital, and more often than not, they buy one of his books. A few weeks earlier he made $150 in three hours at the Ojai farmer's market, he said.However, he said, some people get uncomfortable when confronted, and some even get rude. Recently someone told him, "go to Santa Monica, you bum."

Life on the streets has been good to Hale. When forced to choose the worst part about living outside is that it's illegal, and he's constantly being profiled as a bum, he said.

"It's a strange concept that if I lay down out of sight, and sleep, it's illegal," Hale said. "It's illegal to sleep, but you can wander around the streets all night."

He said police wake him up and tell him he's breaking the law, but after he's awake, he's legal. It's this concept that he finds frustrating. Other than that, so far he hasn't had too many serious problems. Once, someone ran off with the money he'd just made from his poetry, which was lying in his guitar case.

Hale began his poet's life on the streets of Boulder Colorado when he was 18. He had two poems and he needed money for food. So he went downtown to ask people if they wanted to hear a "poem for a dollar", he said.

"I've never begged for a dime, ever," he said.

Now he fancies himself as a troubadour, not exactly in the traditional sense, but within a more modern context. Troubadours were lyric poets during the Middle Ages who typically stayed in one place "under the patronage of noble men and noble women." However, many did travel extensively, sojourning at one court after another, according to Wikipedia.org.

Hale has recently returned from a 5-month journey through places like Kansas City, Seattle, Northern California, and even home to Iowa, briefly, because his dad said that if he came home he would "get him out," when he was finished visiting.

Winter always signals a change for Hale.

He said that during the worst of the winter months he works around ski resorts in Taos, New Mexico, and Nederland, near Boulder Colorado, where he is able to use what he saves from his street performance work to get in out of the cold.

After his latest return to Santa Barbara, he was in Ojai working the Farmer's Market and met a high school teacher named Craig Andrews. Andrews offered to pay Hale 10 bucks for 15 minutes of time to talk with the students of his English class.

Andrews said, "this guy was put in my path for a reason."

Hale read his poetry to students and then answered questions about his life. He said that it was a good experience.

"It was great," he said. "They were receptive."

He said teachers have an important place in society, and that he never had the chance to meet those who taught him the most, like Tupac Shakur, Jim Morrison and Bob Marley.

After his appearance at Nordhoff High, Hale was back-stage at the middle school talent show giving his philosophical support to the young artists.

"No matter what you do people will hate you for it, so in that sense as an artist, do what you want to do," he said," good people will come who will appreciate you for it."

This article was written for the blog Homeless in Santa Barbara. Project spokesperson Isabelle Walker says Hale is no longer seen on the streets of the area. "I have no idea where Tim is currently or how he is faring. LEt's hope his is okay. He certainly is creative and resourceful," she said.

Hale surfaced a couple of weeks ago in Ojai, California, where YouTube videos have captured him playing intricate tunes on his slide guitar, barefoot on the street near a farmer's market, and reciting his poems. His wanderings have taken him across 40 state lines this year, he says, including participation in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

From "The Kinship of Homeless"

A poem by Tim Hale

...we gathered and shared meals every night

around fires we'd ramble until dawn brought us light

we dumpstered some steaks and 40 plus dollars

and fed them to dogs who roamed without collars

there were dreamers and lovers, addicts and thieves

we'd share with each other our deepest beliefs

about pain from the past, how life had been tainted

how life's just a canvas waiting to be painted

we talked of possibilities that never really end

how the heart that's broke the most eventually mends

while some work for power, for gain and for gold

our possessions were little, but rich was our soul

no moments or choices 'tween love and 'tween fear

if you open yourself, there is family near

we weren't each others siblings, or fathers or mothers

though all of us were family, in Seattle that summer.

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