The back of Renda Writer’s 1991 Ford Explorer is a smorgasbord of material – the collected detritus of a poet, artist and nonstop creator seeking to arrive at the intersection of art and commerce. There are boxes filled with marketing material, including fliers, business cards and copies of his two CDs of music-backed poetry: 2006’s “Eclectic Poetic” and this year’s “Workaholic” – both titles appropriate to Renda’s personality.
There are carpet samples carved into the shapes of hearts. There are pendants of jewelry inscribed on both sides with nuggets of wisdom Renda wrote or repurposed, and thrift-shop vinyl records markered with his original designs, intended for an art show in Fort Lauderdale dedicated to vinyl canvases. And there is plenty of other people’s garbage: pieces of discarded furniture, culled from Dumpster diving sessions, which have been “upcycled” and transformed into rustic artwork bearing slogans like “Help is on the way” and “every minute matters … more.”
At night, the 34-year-old poet will somehow find a way to condense all of this labor enough so that he can rest his six-foot frame on a makeshift bed of couch cushions in the back of the SUV. Because, for most of the past three and a half years, this most-familiar face in South Florida’s poetry-performance scene has been homeless.
“I think it was sometime in ’09 when my girlfriend and I broke up,” he recalls. “We had a one-bedroom apartment in Boca. We dated for four years, and when we broke up, I didn’t have the money to get a new place. I just was kind of intimidated by the idea of the search for one. I had no money, I didn’t want to be someone’s roommate, I didn’t want to find some awkward living situation on Craigslist that I’m not going to like in a month. Since I’m tough enough to handle it, I decided that I’m just going to live wherever.”
With his few possessions housed in a storage facility in Fort Lauderdale and spread across the homes of a few friends whose couches he occasionally surfs, Renda today lives like a gypsy, spreading art instead of curses. His home is the tri-county area, and his office is any of a number of 24-hour Wi-Fi hot spots. He showers at the beach or the gym he joined, which he could afford since he doesn’t have to worry about rent or any other attachments, like a significant other, children or pets. He is the epitome of the bohemian artist, and he’s come to appreciate a situation most of us might not be able to handle.
“I’m fairly comfortable,” he says. “When the weather is cool, I enjoy it thoroughly. This is camping weather, and that’s essentially what I’m doing. My tent is my car. That’s how I look at it. It might be weird, but I have to look at things differently in order to stay positive. Because negativity and doubt is always nipping at your heels, waiting to give you a nervous breakdown.
“Even when I had a home, I still had this brain,” he continues. “I still had this counter-culture mentality. I was still a victim of society’s prescribed way of thinking, but I grew out of it very gradually. So now here I am.”
Nevertheless, this turn of events may come as a surprise to those who have watched Renda’s rise through South Florida’s coffeehouse culture. Creative of all types – writers, poets, visual artists, filmmakers, comedians – know Renda Writer (who won’t give away his real name), because he’s an excellent marketer and a loquacious people’s person; he’s not the stereotype of a homeless person, whatever that stereotype is.
After arriving to Florida from New York in the mid-2000s, the aspiring poet answered a Craigslist ad to be an open-mic host at the now-defunct Hideout Bar and Grille in Boca. That gig kick-started a fertile period of hosting open-mics throughout the region, at places like Kevro’s in Delray Beach, ArtServe in Fort Lauderdale, and Stage 84 in Davie. His poetry was maturing too, and he soon began a quest that’s been six years in the making.
In 2007, while watching “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” Renda launched a goal: to appear on her show to read one of his poems, a romantic piece titled “Half Hearted” that he wrote in Central Park in 2001.
“It entailed a lot of the regular stuff you’d imagine, making phone calls to casting directors, sending e-mails, general inquiries. I made a petition, and got a thousand signatures on paper. I got two thousand signatures on an online petition. Then I set up an art show in Miami, in Ellen’s honor, on the weekend of her birthday. I’ve sent her every piece of press I’ve gotten. When I published my own magazine, called WeMerge, I would mention my goal in the letter to the editor, and then send it to her.”
Renda even performed on two local NBC affiliates in South Florida, hoping that the national network, which syndicates Degeneres’ show, would take notice. No dice.
His most lucrative attempt to catch Ellen’s attention was an art show organized in Los Angeles, to support a charity, which featured artists from multiple states creating likenesses of Ellen. It cost Renda $9,000 and seven months of time to put it together, and instead of inviting Renda on her show to promote it, Degeneres recapped the event with a few scornful comments about two of the paintings, insisting that she knew nothing of the show’s existence … or its creator.
“I’m not focused on that goal anymore,” Renda says. “I still have the desire to get on the show, but I’m not doing anything on a daily basis to reach it. I’m not a one-trick pony, and I’m not ever going to put all my eggs in one basket. So here we are a year later, and Ellen is very rarely the topic of discussion when I’m talking to people.”
On the day of our interview, in which Renda would go on to host a monthly poetry showcase at the Palm Coast Educational Center in West Palm Beach, he had spent six hours making artisanal jewelry he hoped to sell. As far as the next day goes, and the day after that, who knows? Not Renda, who tends to live moment by moment – spontaneous and, for now, always mobile.
For more on Renda Writer, and other South Florida poets, pick up the May-June issue of Boca Raton.