September 23, 2010

Faculty member’s poetry anthology aids homeless

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Patrick T. Randolph’s poetry anthology was inspired, in part, by crushed cans.

Randolph, a new faculty member in the Center for English as a Second Language at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is the editor/author of “Empty Shoes: Poems on the Hungry and the Homeless,” a collection of 151 poems touching on the subject of homelessness and hunger.

Randolph’s poetry anthology story started during his last week at Beloit College in Wisconsin. He’d been instrumental in setting up a recycling program there. When he heard about a recycling program that was making a difference to the communities on Chicago’s south side, he decided he just had to get involved.

His first days on the job were eye -- and mind -- opening. Many of the recycling unit’s most consistent customers were homeless people who brought in crushed cans and glass for money. A self-described “white guy from upper Wisconsin,” Randolph quickly discovered that many of the preconceptions he’d held and stereotypes he’d heard were not true.

“We had one guy who came in every day at 2 p.m., you could set your clock by him,” Randolph said. “Here he is, without a home, with no place he has to be at a particular time, and he’s that punctual. I met another guy who worked an area near a restaurant. He had a spiel where he’d say, ‘Are you the person who will give me a crisp $100 bill and change my life?’ I didn’t see him for a few months, and I wondered what happened. Then I saw him again. I asked him how he was, and he told me he’d gotten his job back (working on the tarmac) at the airport and he was thanking the people who’d helped him when he was down.”
Randolph said he did meet plenty of homeless people who fit the common description of middle-aged men with substance-abuse problems. But he met plenty of others whose homelessness was the result of job loss or other hardships. And he met homeless single moms and families.

When Randolph left the recycling unit to attend graduate school, he found he couldn’t get his homeless friends out of his mind. His poetry anthology, “Father’s Philosophy,” was doing well at Popcorn Press, which made him think of a poetry anthology with profits to benefit the homeless.

“At first I felt like when I was an undergraduate again, writing a paper and panicking about the topic, wondering if I was going to find enough sources for my topic,” he said. “In the end, there was so much it was very difficult to make the final selections.”

Randolph said he got a submissions bonus when he fulfilled a friend’s request to sponsor a poetry contest for which he could set the topic. He asked for poems on hunger and the homeless, and that first batch of contest submissions later provided a base for the anthology. He also got some help when several poetry and literature publications ran a call for submissions for him.

The anthology includes poems by Ellen Kort, Wisconsin’s first Poet Laureate, and Pushcart Award nominees Sharmagne Leland-St. John and Ellaraine Lockie, among others. The anthology made it as high as second on the Amazon Hot New Release list when it debuted last winter.

Randolph said Popcorn Press sent $1,300 in May to Feed America, money generated by “Empty Shoes.” Randolph said he has managed to send another $500 from public readings from the anthology, and several of the other authors have held readings and sent donations as well.

Randolph said he hopes to find ways to promote the cause in his new home of Southern Illinois. He’s hopeful that some of the service-minded Registered Student Organizations and community organizations might team up with him to hold some fundraising events for Feed America or for local food pantries and shelters.

To order the book, go to or to To hear more from Patrick T. Randolph or to arrange for a poetry reading-fundraising event, contact him at or at 618/453-6526.