Shining a spotlight

Hank Kalet is both a very talented poet and a terrific journalist, and in this volume he puts his diverse skills to work in shining a spotlight on the urgent and under-reported problem of homelessness in the U.S.  Sometimes it takes a combination of powerful art and in-depth reporting to get people to pay more attention to crucial social issues. We can only hope that Kalet’’s innovative book, with its inventive mix of objectivist-influenced, journalistic poems and moving photographs by Sherry Rubel, will motivate elected officials and the general public to put more resources into reducing American homelessness and poverty. With Kalet’’s artistic lens focused up close on the example of a homeless encampment in Lakewood, NJ, this compelling book brings real, often-ignored human stories, statistics, and local geographies to life. It is essential reading for those who enjoy political art and for those who want to help change our world for the better.

Eliot Katz, author of Unlocking the Exits (poems), and The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg

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In his 1988 book, Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America, Jonathan Kozol interviews a homeless Vietnam veteran named Richard Lazarus. He claims that he and his fellow homeless people “serve another function… It’s like farmers posting scarecrows in the fields. People see these terrifying figures in Penn Station and they know, with one false step, that they could be here too. They think, ‘I better not complain.’”

In As An Alien in a Land of Promise, Hank Kalet is intrepid and resolute. He is moved to explore the Tent City homeless enclave of Lakewood, NJ—a community that has been since dismantled. In this rendering, Kalet works in the poetic traditions of the inspired and observant narrator in Whitman’s “The Sleepers” and, with his sense of lineation, Williams’ image-emphasis. Studs Terkel also seems present, as so much of what is said is spoken by the residents of Tent City, but crafted by Kalet.

This is a compelling book, trenchant and urgent, stocked with images and people who returned to me for weeks after reading this manuscript. Hank Kalet is a witness with the empathy to perceive and the craft to depict. He has made Tent City a permanent place for this reader.

BJ Ward, author of Jackleg Opera

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