Creative director, spoken word poet, champion for hope... Don McCaleb is one of those people you want to know. He's also been a great friend to Car Window Poetry in its launch, contributing his own original work, sharing the project with his friends, and seeking to help in any way he can.
I actually knew about Don before I moved to Colorado Springs. As part of a collaborative community for Christian creatives called SPUR, we got connected on the topic of graphic design. Once I arrived in the Springs, he welcomed me with open arms, invited me to the movies with his friends (I still don't know how I feel about The Lobster), and has continued to keep his door open.
In a new feature on the blog, I want to start highlighting the poets who have contributed parts of themselves to this project through writing. While these poems remain anonymous, it's special for me to know they weren't just pulled out of the air. These poems are creative expressions from the hearts of real people, contributed to help real people.
So, with that being said, let's meet Don McCaleb.
Don, what do you do?
For my day job, I'm a creative director at a church in Colorado Springs called Woodmen Valley Chapel. That involves championing creativity, inspiring other people to create, and making sure the creative content we produce, from print to web to video, is all done with excellence.
There is a lot of cheesy art that's out there in the church world, so part of what I do is making sure we're producing art and creative content that's non-cheesy. One day, recently, I took three Thomas Kincaid books out of our lobby and I felt like I had had a good day.
That is a good day. So, you're also a spoken word poet. How did that come about?
I've been writing spoken word poetry since about 2008. For me, trying to find a voice as a poet was an interesting journey because I'm a 50-year-old white guy. But I was captivated by spoken word poetry.
I have a poet friend from France named Gerard Kelly, and I heard some of his poetry performed in a worship setting. Then, at the same time, I was listening to people like Shad, a Canadian rapper who does some spoken word, and I thought, 'I wonder if I could do something like that and smush things together that I like, and come out with something that's original and true to who I am.' Hopefully over the years, through experimenting and trial and error, I've gotten to that place.
It took a long time for me to even be able to talk to people and say that I was a poet. It felt like a lofty title I didn't want to admit to – like, it maybe sounded too pretentious or grandiose. However, I came to realize over time, and through receiving affirmation, encouragement, and inspiration from other creatives, that it was something God was using in a cool way and something that was unique, original, and powerful – not because of me, but because of God's hand and how He has gifted me. And I realized if that's how God has gifted me and it's something I've seen him use in different contexts, then I need to own it and walk in that.
There are people who have probably seen Car Window Poetry and thought, 'That's great and all, but I'm not a poet. I don't have something to give.' What would you say to those people?
Try it. As Nike says, "Just do it."
I think one of the cool things about Car Window Poetry is that it's a super easy, accessible way for anybody to participate. I'm at a stage in life where I have a lot of busyness and a hectic schedule that has crowded out the room for me to write a lot of poetry. So, when I heard about this, I thought it was awesome because I don't have to take the time to develop a piece that's three or five minutes long. I can come up with four lines that are hopefully interesting and cool and catch somebody's ear in a fresh way.
I'd say that to other people, too. This is an easy entry point, and who knows – you might try it and find that you really enjoy it and have a gift for it. What a great way to be able to spread beauty and hope and creativity to a world that desperately needs all of those things.
I love the anonymity of it too, because there's a humility to that. Like, you're not trying to be a big deal. I'm just going to release some beauty into the world and see what happens, and I may never know what happens and that's okay.
With that, I think we're all storytellers. We all have a story we can share and perspectives we can share from. What's the story you seek to tell through your work?
For me, we all have our own stories and we're all part of a bigger story. If there's a bigger story, then there's an author to that story – a creator of that story – and I believe that that's the God of the Bible. His story is the story I'm telling, and it's amazing to me that I get to be part of telling that story even in some small way.
On a more personal level, my story intersects with God's bigger story. Life has kicked my ass at different times. I've been broken and defeated and come to the point of realizing I can't do it myself, and God has rescued me from myself.
So, poetry for me is a beautiful way to help tell that story. In some ways, it can be a little bit guarded and a little less vulnerable. Through metaphor and rhyme and even adopting a character in a story or alluding to things in broader terms, it tells that story in a way that's authentic but maybe a little less naked than giving every detail and every ugly thing I've needed rescuing from.
For the Car Window Poetry project, one of my hopes for the rhymes I've written so far, and as I write more, would be to share a sense of hope, that as long as you have breath God can rescue you. There's beauty, redemption, grace, and mercy available to you. I don't know what'll happen. My hope is that a rhyme on a card somewhere might find someone who's feeling broken, defeated, and ready to give up, and give them the courage to try one more time.
Yes, I love that. One last question: Because Car Window Poetry is largely based in community and involving the communities we're in, how has your community impacted you creatively?
I think true creativity is birthed out of who we are, and we can't separate that from where we live and the people we're around. For me, as a poet, if it wasn't for my friends, other creatives, and my church family, I probably wouldn't be doing poetry because I was in a context where I got a lot of encouragement, inspiration, and challenges to sharpen my skills and be better.
But, even before the challenges to be better, they gave me the permission to try and risk. I'm part of a culture that cultivates risk and creativity.
I'd encourage anybody that has even the slightest inkling that this project is something they want to try to put yourself in situations where you're surrounded by other creatives who give you the permission to try and take risks.
Also, as artists and creatives, I hope that we see our gifts and callings and our art as a means to promote the flourishing of our cultures, cities and communities. Can you speak out against injustice with your art? Can you encourage people not to give up? Can you point them to that source of hope, whatever it is for you?
Wherever you find hope and beauty, and wherever you see the solutions to the problems that are plaguing your community and your city, can you use art, beauty, and creativity to be a part of that conversation, as well as part of the solutions that will make the world a better and more beautiful place?