Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Tribute to Jack from his friend Sidewalk Sam

At the memorial service for Jack Powers, the founder of Stone Soup Poetry of Boston, Mass., the famed street artist and Power's close friend Sidewalk Sam, made an eloquent tribute speech about Jack. A few years back I worked with Sam to organize Jack's 70th birthday, along with Margaret Narin and the the Rev. Louise Anderson. Sam graciously sent me the text of the speech.

A Tribute to Jack from his friend Sidewalk Sam 10/24/2010

Jack Powers spent every waking moment of his existence devoted to noble intentions and noble pursuits. He lived a noble life by practicing hundreds of little acts of nobility on a daily basis. He was a humanist. He was concerned with the condition of human-kind.

I was in awe of him for his devotion to the noble idea of poetry and for his absolute belief in the noble idea of Mankind. I worked with Jack constantly over the years on poetry and other artistic projects.

Let me tell you a story … Jack was the main person I relied upon when my wife, Tina, and I undertook a vast project to ennoble a loathsome passageway from Haymarket into the North End. Remember it? It was the Freedom Trail, a pedestrian footpath that meandered under the elevated expressway and was the principle entrance into the North End from Boston, before the Rose Kennedy Greenway was built. Rusty, decayed, filthy and forlorn, it became a dungeon-like flophouse for homeless people who panhandled tourists passing through.

Jack, Tina and I decided to turn the block long space from a dungeon into a noble medieval Italian cathedral that would provide an appropriate welcome to tourists into the North End. Jack helped us clean up three dump truck loads of trash that we containerized for the City to haul away. We installed trash barrels and Jack swept the block and cleaned up the area many times a day. Nancy Jameson built seven flower boxes, which Tina and Jack painted with Tuscan motifs and planted with flowers and then maintained daily. We got a lift from Modern Continental Construction Company for the entire summer. Jack donned breathing gear every day, raised himself up to the underside of the overhead highway two stories above us and cleaned and scraped away decades of filth, rust and debris.

Hardly any metal held that highway up when Jack finished. He removed tons of rust! Once cleaned, we painted the beams and supports that held up the highway to resemble ornate marble church pillars. The entire block long underside of the highway was painted like a royal-blue cathedral ceiling - a painted "heaven." Jack placed hundreds of gold stars in it. We painted dozens of cherubs flying among gold laced clouds in the blue, star-studded sky. We read poetry daily. We had violinists perform and singers sang arias along the walkway.

Jack thrilled to the whole enterprise and devoted himself entirely to it. It consumed five years of our lives. It was a celebration of the streets! It took one of the worst examples of public spiritless-ness and turned it into an exalted expression of high art.

It was what Jack was about. He was a poet … but he was so much more. He believed in people. He acted like a high priest of people in daily life. He believed in Boston. To him Boston was his temple. He tried to make daily life in Boston a holy experience. He was high-minded. He believed in the power of the little guy, you and me, to exalt ourselves and make of daily life a paradise.

Jack thought immense thoughts and lived an immense life and was completely undaunted by poverty and class disadvantages. He went about the City as a humble street servant, doing common day labor – like a serf, like a peasant, like a ditch digger, like a grape picker. He was proud to be identified with them. And as he grew more and more into that role, I thought more and more that he was like St Francis of Assisi and I was in awe of the hundreds of tiny corporal act of mercy that he would bestow on Boston streets daily. As he went about his appointed rounds, Jack was a holy man. He lived his last years a misunderstood saint, a downtrodden seer; sweeping our streets. His broom was like Demosthenese 's lantern – instead of looking for an honest man, Jack cleaned the pathways of Boston for us, because we were all honest men.

He saw our beauty and our worth. He saw beauty in the mundane. He was a Johnny Appleseed of the streets. In his character as Jacques DeBris, he collected trash trophies and set them on little stages like sculptures. They were beautiful! They were wiser and kinder than anything Marcel Duchamp ever did.

Wisdom, vision, insight, hard work, deep down goodness, great humor, unending love… Jack was so beautiful.

Jack had no faults, or none worth mentioning. Certainly none to be mentioned on the glorious level on which he lived. His spirit… ah, that is his story! And we all have a story about Jack ...

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