I ... entered the poem of life, whose purpose is ... simply to witness the beauties of the world, to discover the many forms that love can take. (Barabara Blackman in 'Glass After Glass')

These poems are works in progress and may be updated without notice. Nevertheless copyright applies to all writings here and all photos (which are either my own or used with permission). Thank you for your comments. I read and appreciate them all, and reply here to specific points that seem to need it — or as I have the leisure. Otherwise I reciprocate by reading and commenting on your blog posts as much as possible.

14 April 2017

The Scam

To the prison poets, 16 years later

Poetry, that bridge
across separate realities, 
lifted me out of the dark
to see and know
the lie lying over you
as untrue. 

That tomb, prison,
left many marks I'm sure,
but they were not you.
Only the marks you made,
on the page, revealed
the true soul – so far
from everyday reality,
and so much more real.

Sad, then, 
that after all
physical freedom threw you
back to the world's fraud
where we all act out 
external roles
learned early.

What got you in there
engulfed you again, out.
The brawler, the drunk,
the druggie, the thief,
the hustler, the sucker 
found no other way
of coping. Poetry

doesn't pay the rent
or put food on the table,
and when it gets you the girl
it doesn't teach you
how to live with her,
how to keep her.

Sorry, I didn't mean
to do such a good con job.
I myself was gullible.
It worked for me –
but I started out
luckier, I guess.

There were those of you 
(few) 
turned it around,
became
after false starts
amalgamated:
inner and outer man
combining to be new,
and grow.

Some, as far as I know,
still make poems. 
Others stopped.
This has nothing to do
with which ones 
changed their lives,
and who did not.

Poetry and I 
might be
irrelevant.


Once upon a time I was a poetry tutor in a men's prison. They were all poets already and had approached the Poets Union, through their Education Officer, to ask for a regular workshop.

For this poem I used a word list from 'imaginary garden with real toads' for Get Listed – April Ain't Fooling Edition, Day 13 of April Poetry Month. We were asked to use at least three of these words (I used all but one): bridge, con, lie, tomb, scam, gullible, fraud, president, hustler, sucker, mark, prison. 

Also linking to Poets United's Poetry Pantry #349.

33 comments:

  1. Rosemary, you have crafted a pen with heart and insight. Thank you for adding your voice ~

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  2. Poetry and I
    might be
    irrelevant.

    This can work as a reversed type of psychology. They will turn around to say it is relevant and want more!

    Hank

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  3. i am sure you changed many lives just by being you

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    1. Just think of all the poems they inspired in you, and the poems they will keep inspiring!

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  4. What a tale. Irrelevant in the sense that you were not what you were supposed to be, given your situation?

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    1. In that there were more important things going on in their lives.

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  5. They would not have asked for the workshop if there were not a gap needing to be fill. I feel certain your tutoring was relevant

    Much love...

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  6. I enjoyed getting inside of your experience here, Rosemary. Interesting that they were all poets before going to prison...and it is good that while they were there they had an opportunity to write. Good that a few were able to turn their life around....and that some still make poems. As for what effect poetry writing had on these men, who knows! But one can hope it did make a difference...somehow.

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    1. Well, when I said 'already' I meant by the time I met them. Not sure if they were all writing before being imprisoned, but I do know that institutionalised people readily turn to poetry for creative expression and emotional release. Most were there very long-term. Yes I have no doubt it did help while they were on the inside, but in some cases perhaps created unreal expectations for later. I exposed them to a variety of other visiting poets, who enthused over the prisoners' best work; we published an anthology; they got the sense of a vibrant poetry community outside, which was true – but this guaranteed only limited fame and no fortune, once they got out. There was still all the rest of life to deal with in practical ways, with few if any support structures available.

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  7. WOW! What a fantastically interesting topic. How interesting, also, that you taught poetry in a men's prison. Yes, the odds of turning life around after prison are small, but some do it. I am glad they had poetry, in any case.

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  8. This reminds me of Valmiki who wrote The Ramayana, one of the great epics of India. He was a robber in his former life. Tagore composed a kind of opera based on his life called Valmiki-Pratibha. And a renowned danseuse of Bengal at present is working on this dance drama of Tagore with quite a number of prisoners. I have seen the production and it's beyond belief. Some of these participants, now released from prison, are at present in the mainstream of society. Art does change life, in a better way.
    You are so lucky to have been given such a chance in your life to be able to make some differences in the life of those souls.
    This is indeed a wonderful poem.

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    1. Thank you Sumana, I find your comment very moving.

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  9. Poetry and I
    might be
    irrelevant.... read it several times, your effort, the prisoners, the redemption or otherwise, the relevance or otherwise... touched a deep chord Rosemary. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. We too readily categorise and condemn. People are multi-faceted and, if given the space, creative. Thank you.

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  11. Thanks for sharing your experience, Rosemary. The last stanza summarizes everything - the power / no power of poetry and being an individual no matter the status in life.I believe you have inspired them :)

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  12. How important it is to give those who have erred in life hope for the future in such a Poetry workshop and other straws for them to grasp that there is another life other than crime if they wish.

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  13. Thank you, Rosemary, for being a emissary of hope and change, in these men's lives.

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  14. This is a fascinating story, Rosemary, all the more potent for being told in hindsight.

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  15. "That tomb, prison,
    left many marks I'm sure,
    but they were not you.
    Only the marks you made,
    on the page, revealed
    the true soul . . ."

    Wow!

    "Poetry, that bridge
    across separate realities . . . "

    That is exactly what you shaped poetry to do here, and I thank you with all my heart!

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    1. Can't help but admire you for doing what you did and now writing about it. If you changed only one person, allowed him to heal some aspect of his person, you and your love of poetry can never be defined as irrelevant.

      Elizabeth

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  16. poetry, visual arts, perhaps these are the things that keep them sane during their incarceration. i am sure some of their lives would have been touched by you..

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  17. Bravo! a truly marvellous poem Rosemary - it may not have forward momentum but for those moments the teaching of poetry was a chance to escape. That is more than enough

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  18. Your poem gives us a wonderful story. How I would love to read the poetic efforts of those prisoners. How great that they were given a safe platform to vent their feelings. This leaves me wanting to know more!

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  19. A wonderful poem. And I agree, we are who we are before we begin to write or paint.

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  20. Back for another read..........I love this poem. One doesnt often think of poets in prison. I am glad to know it is there, to lift the thoughts of those incarcerated beyond the walls. I know it is much harder for them when they return to the mainstream, than it is for others. I like your acknowledgement that you perhaps started out luckier. Me, too.

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  21. It is awesome that you did that sort of work. I'm glad you shared that story and yes, I can't help but think that good came from your efforts.

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  22. This poem is powerful in its wisdom, compassion an knowledge of human behavior. How kind of you to have done this work. I doubt you or poetry are irrelevant, maybe it's just that there are other stronger forces in people's lives. Wonderful poem Rosemary.

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  23. A fascinating story, which you have rendered in such a compelling manner, your readers cannot help but feel engaged ... and hopeful, that many of these 'poet prisoners' ultimately were able to turn their lives around.

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  24. Poetry, that bridge
    across separate realities,
    lifted me out of the dark
    to see and know
    the lie lying over you
    as untrue.

    You had me awed at the opening lines!❤️

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  25. Thank you for sharing. Lovely and interesting share.

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