When Daren Kamali started working at Auckland Central Library one of the first things he noticed was how homeless people seemed to be drawn to the library. Rough sleepers would regularly gather around the entrance, talking amongst themselves.
After joining in some of these conversations Daren, who is a published poet and Pacific Heritage Advisor at Auckland Libraries, was inspired to launch Street Poets and Artists Collective Enterprise (SPACE). The project is a partnership between Auckland Council Connected Communities and the Auckland City Mission, and gives rough sleepers a chance to have their voices heard.
Last March Daren started holding SPACE poetry workshops every Thursday morning at Auckland City Mission.
“The workshops ran for 21 weeks before lockdown,” says Daren. “We would do poetry and storytelling exercises, sharing stories and experiences. The poets would write a poem [at] each workshop, covering topics such as suicide, depression, and homelessness.”
The workshops became a “sacred space” for the rough sleeper community. “It gave them a space and time to come and reflect, and also to talk about whatever was going on for them,” Daren says. “The writing exercises in the workshops gave them more confidence to share their stories.”
Seven poets and one artist now make up the SPACE collective. The poets have written enough poems for an anthology, Rough Lives Matter, which will be published in mid-2022. Podcasts and interviews with the authors of the book are also planned and these will be housed in the Heritage Collections section of the Central City Library.
Three SPACE poets have also had their works selected for More Than a Roof, a collection of poetry about transitional housing published by Landing Press. “One of the poets, who started writing last year, has been published for the first time in her life [in More Than a Roof] and she was really stoked. I think she’ll carry on her journey as a poet,” Daren says.
SPACE has been supported with funding from Waitematā Local Board, with part of the funds extending to an exhibition by the SPACE artist who will create portraits of each of the seven poets.
The local board funding has also provided the means to bring New Zealand’s poet laureate David Eggleton on board to edit the poetry anthology alongside Daren.