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.

29 December 2011

Writing the Prison

(Acknowledgments to Anne Sexton’s “Ringing the Bells”)

And this is the way we go
to work in prison
and this is the gate where we stand
still for the metal-detector and open our bags
and open the books in our bags,
and these are the writers in prison
who wait for Friday,
two hours a week that feel like freedom;
and because we are working in poetry
and because that’s another country,
an open space outside what is known,
we are the circle of laughing poets
who lounge in the plastic chairs in the Education shed
and smile at the baffled officers
who watch but leave us alone,
who watch us escape
the gates and doors with locks;
and these are the bluestone blocks we pass
on the way into the prison
guarded by guns as if it were true
we are not free, we are not free;
and these are the tunnels we walk on Tuesday
in maximum security,
cages that whisper open electronically,
whisper open electronically and whisper closed;
and this is how the poetry shouts,
as outspoken and bold
as a fearless child,
and this is always my freedom responding
to the words that respond to the prison
where poets write and are free
two hours a week, on Tuesday or Friday,
when the door in the wall cracks open
and lets me in, and we meet;
and although I may work and go
out again through the tunnels and gates and locks,
I am the one who will never
escape the prison.

Written in 1987
First published
La Mama Poetica anthology (Melb. University Press 1989)
Also in Walking the Dogs (Pariah Press anthology, 1994)
Included in the author's Secret Leopard: New and Selected Poems 1974-2005 (Paris, Alyscamps Press, 2005).

Posted here now because of a conversation in which this experience came up. A conversation in haiku, actually, at Haiku on Friday, on facebook.

Submitted to Poetry Pantry #81 at Poets United


  1. wonderful.this is precisely the belief that keeps poets going.as Shelley said, 'unacknowledged legislators of the world.'

  2. Fantastic, Rosemary, the poem, the insights, the power of the piece - AND the fact that you go to the prison and liberate those inmates for those very important two hours. Bless you.

  3. It is truly an escape that only the condemned can fully appreciate - excellent!!

  4. Thanks to you all for your thoughtful comments.