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Greg Curry: poetry career lifts him from homelessness

Wed, Apr 30, 2014

Greg CurryGreg Curry hit the ground running at the start of his career. Fresh out of college with a six-figure salary, a wife and Mercedes Benz, there wasn’t much to complain about, except, he said, his desire to make a living doing what he actually loved: writing and performing poetry.

“I wanted to kill myself,” Curry recalled. “I would sit behind my desk and do my paperwork, and yet I hated every minute of it. For years, all I prayed for at night was the ability to write poetry and to focus on nothing else.”

With the market crash of 2008, Curry’s prayers were answered in an unusual way. When he lost his job, and consequently his wife and his Benz, Curry had a hard time viewing his situation as the blessing he calls it today. Instead, he resorted to alcohol as a coping mechanism and eventually became homeless as a result.

Acknowledging his alcohol dependency, Curry decided to admit himself in and out of rehabilitation centers in Florida – a time he classified as homelessness. Curry then moved to Chicago with a friend from rehab, but was informed three weeks later that his roommate needed the bedroom for a relative instead.

He spent that night outside, alone and intoxicated.

“I’ll have to admit, I got raging drunk,” he said, referring to the first night he ever slept on a park bench.

Curry continued to live in and out of shelters for about eight months until he was able to support himself on disability from Type 1 diabetes.

For many people, homelessness conjures thoughts of cold winter nights bundled up atop a flattened box refurbished as a bed, or the sound of two or three coins clashing together in a plastic cup. The common stereotype, according to Curry, is an African American man with a crack addiction. But for him – a Caucasian man from a wealthy area in New Jersey – homelessness meant something different.

“Part of being homeless is deciding what homelessness even is,” he said. “My definition of homelessness is when you don’t have the ability to sit down on your couch at 2 in the afternoon in your boxer shorts and watch anything you want on T.V. The lack of those kind of liberties is the true definition of homeless.”

Although he may not have had the liberty of sitting on his couch in boxers, Curry used this time to work on his poetry, an opportunity that he cherishes today.

“When I first became homeless, I was miserable. I didn’t know how to breathe,” he said. “But after a while I said, ‘Wait a minute, this is the opportunity that I’ve always asked for.’ I started writing all the time.”

Curry started using writing as a form of coping with his alcoholism. In a poem titled Habit, he conveys the struggles of dealing with addiction:

As the crow flies
As the junkie persists
As the lives gradually improve
Whispering ourselves apart
Telling us to go one more time
One more time
One more time
How many do we know now that
Are dead from such convincing a statement

Shortly after Curry realized that homelessness gave him the time to work on his poetry and deal with his addiction, he started performing his work locally at the Green Mill and Urban Sandbox. He spent his time writing, networking and creating his own open mic show called Scene and Heard at an art gallery on Grand Avenue in Chicago’s River North. Curry also published his first book titled Artificial Horizon, A Chapbook of Poetry.

Today, Curry is working to publish his second book while paying his bills with the combination of disability income, and income from the work he does with poetry.

As for the future, he is hopeful.

“It’s been a long journey, but it seems to be going in an upward direction.”

Mariah Woelfel
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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