Longform

DIARY OF AN URBAN POET

Linda Lee Curtis grew up in Great Bend, Kansas, the daughter of an oil-field worker. She moved to Phoenix 11 years ago and settled in a simple clapboard house near the State Capitol. Since that time, she and her husband, Ron, have lived frugally--a 1967 Volkswagen is their transportation--and have succeeded in supporting themselves with their art. Ron Curtis is a sculptor who works in glass and who shows in galleries in Sedona and San Diego; Linda Lee Curtis is a poet.

She is 41, but with her long blond hair and bangs she retains a certain air of childlike innocence. Curtis is uncomfortable talking about herself and her work. She spends most of her time writing, or sending her work to the tiny literary magazines that have printed it, like Bronte Street, published in Mesa; Sagacity, in Worcester, Massachusetts; and Innisfree, in Manhattan Beach, California. Curtis has also published several collections of her work privately.

Her poetry is spare and conversational in tone. It can recall her childhood in the Midwest with its cottonwood and sunflowers, its eccentric characters, its kitchens warm with the smell of baking bread. One recent collection, though, deals with the influx of crime and of homeless people she has seen in her neighborhood in recent years. The title, "Ghetto Rain," refers to the sound of shotgun pellets on a metal roof.

Linda Lee Curtis' "Diary of an Urban Poet" is a slice of life from that neighborhood, to which, after more than a decade of observation, she retains a loyalty.

"I like it here," she says. "I couldn't see myself living isolated in the suburbs. I like having something happening."

DIARY

You may have passed through my neighborhood before, or one like it. You may have looked at it with pity, or even disgust. But if you look beneath the grime and poverty, there are thousands of people trying to squeeze out a life of some sort. The fears and disappointments are big, but so are the dreams.

Day One

Saturday is a bad night around here. The church next door buses in two loads of transients, the mentally ill and other assorted characters. The church feeds them hot dogs, or some other sort of meal after the prayer services are over. It's a noble idea to feed the hungry, but a lot of their recruits don't bother with the religious part of the deal. They wander aimlessly in the vacant lot next door, or crouch on the ground, drinking cheap wine and beer until the food is finally passed out. They get up occasionally to urinate against our house, or to borrow a cigarette.

I had to go outside several times tonight to make sure that no one had thrown down a lighted cigarette. I am so afraid of a fire starting.

The church buses finally pulled out around ten o'clock. I washed some dishes and relaxed enough to start work on a new poem.

I've been writing more rhyming and romantic-type poems lately. A "women's" magazine has just accepted one of them for the June issue. I will be paid ten dollars for it.

Day Two

The popping sound of gunfire startled me out of a sound sleep at 3:05 this morning. Several groups of shots rang out for the next five minutes. I heard someone shout, "If you don't stop that, I'm going to blow your head off!" A police car cruised by about that time. He didn't stop, but everything quieted down after that. I still don't know where the shots came from.

These wild shooting episodes worry me. We sleep next to a window and it's too easy to imagine a bullet shattering it while we're sleeping.

There were a lot of people inside the vacant house next door today. My husband, Ron, called the police, believing that someone had broken into the house. There were people of all ages running in and out of the house. A small boy was gleefully marking his territory by our porch, unaware of all the activity. It turned out that one of our longtime neighbors had been given permission by the house's owner to rent it to someone. We'd heard nothing about it, so it was very embarrassing when I had to explain everything to four not-so-thrilled cops.

I have been submitting a lot of poems lately. I've been sending some to "markets" that are pretty closed to outsiders, but I figure it is better to try them than to always wonder.

Eleven of my poems have been published since last January. That brings my total number of publications to somewhere between five and six hundred. I love to see my poems in print, but I get my real pleasure from writing them. The small literary journals bring a lot of satisfaction to me as a poet, but very little money. Luckily, money has never persuaded me that it lives up to its image. This neighborhood is full of free poetry, if you want it.

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Linda Lee Curtis