With his lean build, long reach and heavy hands, you could be forgiven for thinking Rob is a bare-knuckle boxer. Rob, however, isn’t a prize fighter; he is a poet.

Once upon a time, Rob’s crack addiction pinned him against the ropes, and knocked him to his knees, forcing him into homelessness. Now, however, Rob no longer uses crack. Rather than punching his way to the next fix, he carries a pen and paper, and writes poetry.

The future is much brighter for this young man who struts through the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre, a sly smile never far from his face.

Governor General Michaëlle Jean recently told a Calgary audience, “Art transforms despair and indifference into glimmers of hope and action.” The Servants Anonymous Society of Calgary (S.A.S), a community agency dedicated to assisting young women who have made the decision to leave prostitution and street lifestyle, agrees. In the spring of 2006, S.A.S published a book of poetry called Cry of the Streets. The book is a celebration of dignity, integrity, love, and community. It is a manifesto of how the authors’ integrate into society; how they take simple pleasures in life and turn them into profound life lessons; and, how they have healed from their past so that they can live brighter futures today. It is, according to S.A.S, “Our stories of the healing journey.”

Following a tour of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an area known as Canada’s poorest postal code, Michaëlle Jean said, “Let’s face it: homelessness is a complex issue. It requires that we look far beyond mere bricks and mortar and envision new ways of tackling the problem that are more holistic, equitable and, dare we say it, more humane.”

Through poetry, Rob found an effective and more humane way to handle his addiction.

Like Muhammed Ali, Rob is a fast, fearless, charismatic, and enthusiastic speaker, never at a loss for words. When I asked him what the arts and writing has given him, he responded with a three word answer that required no further elaboration. He said, “It saved me.”

Rob delivers his poems like a boxer delivers a round one knockout punch. His writings are more then mere words. His poems’ are the essence of his experience in love and in sorrow, and in riches and in poverty. His following poem describes his experience as a crack user. Aptly named Path, it is a 40-line raw, edgy biography with a dire warning for all. It is far more eloquent than any addictions manual. It is also a testament to how far Rob has come.

Up above the world below
All things seem to move so slow

… watching people pound the path
selling crack, making cash

People fighting, getting smashed
All because of crack and cash

They stop and look
As their partners cook

Inhale, exhale, smoke curls into the air
Ready, another life destroyed
People on crack just don’t care

Disposed screams pierce the air
…She’s gone for good and no one knows
But the wounds ’n’ cuts and bullet holes

Yet the river, silently, it flows.