When Cavana Faithwalker entered the Phoenix Coffee on Lee Road earlier this week, it seemed almost everybody knew him. Patrons and employees greeted him with, “Hey Cav!”
Faithwalker, a poet and longtime Heights resident, “brings something very warm and unique to our community,” said Peggy Spaeth of Heights Arts, the nonprofit community arts organization.
City Council will recognize Faithwalker as the newest Cleveland Heights poet laureate at its regular meeting Wednesday, and he will read one of his pieces. Though he has an idea of which poem he will share, sometimes he changes his mind at the last minute.
Before the meeting, he will be the guest speaker at Wiley Middle School's Poetry Café, and get an early start on his task of bringing poetry out into the community.
It was not until about 10 years ago that Faithwalker was comfortable calling himself a poet — even though he began writing poetry in the 1970s. He grew up on the southeast side of Cleveland and started writing after being inspired by Muhammad Ali’s word plays. An English teacher helped him enter his work in a contest.
“I’ve been writing ever since,” Faithwalker said.
His poetry covers everything from prejudice to everyday beauty. Faithwalker said he strives to leave listeners asking themselves: “What just happened?”
He wants to overwhelm people and then have them “walk out into the message,” to get them thinking about things they would not normally think about. He wants people to question their own prejudices. Lately, he has focused on presenting an issue from an unusual perspective.
In his poem Trouble in Paradise, the speaker is a longtime Heights resident who just happens to be a skunk. At one point after noticing that children run away from him laughing, the skunk wonders if it is his hair that draws the giggles.
The point, Faithwalker said, is to get listeners to question their own assumptions and how they view others.
As poet laureate, Faithwalker hopes to organize a regional poetry conference that brings all types of poets — from academics to spoken-word artists — to the city to discuss simile, metaphor and publishing.
He imagines it as a conference so inspiring that “it takes you three weeks to get over” it.
Another issue Faithwalker, the father of an 11-year-old girl, hopes to focus on is youth violence and the negative effect of mainstream hip hop on young listeners. He is grappling with questions like: “How do you raise leaders? And how do you find a group of kids that can buck the system?”
“There is so much” to do, he said, his voice trailing off in thought.
Besides being poet laureate, Faithwalker is also an arts educator who worked with children at the Cleveland Museum of Art and a performance and visual artist with a bachelors degree in public art marketing and management from Cleveland State University. He is also an Army-trained photographer and runs Left Thumbprint Solutions, a consulting and project management business.
The company gets it name from the theory that creative people tend to be left-handed and because when people get in trouble with the law, they are fingerprinted.
“I’m using (my fingerprint) for good, not evil,” Faithwalker said with a smile.