Camden’s “Poet of Poverty” talks to WHYY
WHYY’s Susan Phillips jumped over to the arts and culture side of the news operation for the day and did a great interview of Father Michael Doyle – Camden’s “Poet of Poverty” – whose poetry provides the narration for a new documentary about one of New Jersey’s most challenged cities.
The piece opens with perhaps the best explanation that I have ever heard to counter the conservative argument that crime was lower 5 decades ago when there were just as many poor people – as a percentage of the population – as there are now. In other words, the classic poverty is no excuse for crime routine.
“It’s a terrible time to be poor,” says Father Doyle with his classic Irish Catholic priest brogue, “and the reason is you know you’re poor. Sometimes you hear people who are as old as I am say, ‘We were poor but we didn’t know we were poor.’ That’s the difference. Now you know how poor you are. How do you know [now]? The television tells you. Shows you how poor you are because it shows you what you could have. Shows you what you don’t have. You’re in the high voltage time of youth. You’re as angry as can be. Touch you and you explode.”
That’s why it’s different – still not necessarily an excuse but it is different. The hopelessness of the existence and the rigidity of the social ladder have contributed a lot to the poverty-crime connection.
Father Doyle has clearly seen a lot in his many years serving the poor in Camden and his poetry reflects a greater understanding for those conditions than anyone on the outside can ever know.
Susan’s piece, which runs about 5 minutes long, includes clips from the preview of the film, which is also available on Youtube:
And yes, that is Martin Sheen doing the narration. Awesome.
You can catch a screening of the film, 7pm tonight at Antioch Baptist Church in Camden. Tickets are 20 bucks but proceeds go to benefit Heart of Camden – a group that fixes up abandoned houses in Camden.