POETS IN PRISON

How many of you have expressed your thoughts in the form of poetry?

Oops, I hear a few snarls.   All right, I admit some folks look down their noses at “that incomprehensible poetry stuff” but I still ask how many of you have ever written a poem?  And, by this, I don’t necessarily mean formula poetry, rules poetry, or rhymed poetry.  I mean language with a heartbeat.  I mean sometimes emotional or fiery “how I really feel” poetry.  I even mean poetry that you’d burn before you let anyone else read it!

Have you–instead of ranting and swearing or hitting the wall with your fist–ever tried writing a poem?

Have you–when sad, bowed under burdens–ever tried writing a poem?

Have you–when bursting with joy, wide-eyed over experiencing beauty, or aflame with love–ever tried writing a poem?

Yes, of course you can do it.

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What got me started on poetry?  Terry, an on-line friend who writes beautiful poetry, did. (http://terrysthoughtsand threads.blogspot.com)  She reminded me that, some years back, at the beginning of my writing career, I wrote poetry, and even sold some of it.  She took me back to my writing roots.   I not only shared one of my own poems on this blog, (see below)  I went to my bookshelves and took down several of the books of poetry I own, and have read in years past. And I began to read and think . . . .

Seems to me, expressing ourselves in poetry can free us from, well,  call it “the daily grind” more than other forms of expression. It’s just us and our thoughts, rolling out. Why poetry and not prose?  Because this form of writing demands we put thoughts in capsules. We need to understand them; we need to  remove the excess, the garbage words.  We need to THINK.  And thinking often leads to resolution and understanding, or even peace.

Proof?  I’ll begin with the opening lines from Robert Frost’s best known and probably best loved poem, MENDING WALL.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,/ That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it/And spills the upper boulders in the sun,/ And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

Probably most of us can picture what Frost is describing unless, maybe, we live in the tropics and have never seen frozen ground heave under a stone wall.  But the wall is a metaphor for me here.  It stands for being in prison, and, in poetry, for how prisoners break the walls around them.

Read this, by a man named Charles Doss:

From the forward to his book, I SHALL MINGLE:

“In this prison cell I am highly resolved that I shall touch mankind, that I shall mingle with the thousands.”

And, here’s one Doss poem, titled “The Philippines of Our Soul.”

“There is an island in the Philippines,/ or perhaps it is a province,/ called Zamboanga./ I know nothing but its name,/do not wish to know more./ It is pronounced in four syllables, / Zam bo AHNG ah,/ and the sound to my ears is beautiful.

“I don’t know why it calls me so./ But I shall sojourn there one day,/ and when I do I shall not be gray and old./ I shall be lean and hard, laughing and gay,/ Filled with hope for the whole human race./ We should all have a Zamboanga,/ lush, exotic and beckoning,/ Anchored brightly in the Philippines/ of our soul.”

Another:

“I sense that there’s an image here/ That needs to be remembered./ There is an autumn in my soul/ That needs to be Septembered.

“There is a tiny stab of pain – / A shudder and a spasm – / And then infinitudes of night/ That form an endless chasm.

“There is a perfect, perfect peace/ That constitutes a corner – / So poised, so cool: just contemplating me/ And knowing I shall turn her.”

Copyright by Charles Doss, 1979.

I don’t know where Charles Doss is now, or even if he is still on this earth.  When the book came out he was in an Arizona prison, under a life sentence.   An appreciator helped, I believe, by his wife, saw that his poems and essays were published in I SHALL MINGLE.

From other men in prison, published in a book “POEMS FROM GUANTANAMO, the detainees speak.”

“Peace, they say./ Peace of mind?/ Peace on earth?/ Peace of what kind?

“I see them talking, arguing, fighting — / What kind of peace are they looking for?/ Why do they kill?/ What are they planning?

“Is it just talk? Why do they argue?/ Is it so simple to kill?/ Is this their plan?

“Yes, of course!/ They talk, they argue, they kill –/ They fight for peace.”

by Abdulaziz, who was captured when he left Saudi Arabia to find his brother and bring him home from Afghanistan.
Or this, (quoted in part) and written by Jumah Al Dossari from Bahrain, who, the book says, has tried to kill himself a dozen times or more while in prison.

“Dreams are shattered, hopes are battered,/ Yet with new status one is flattered!/ The irony of it — detention and all:/ Be so small, and stand so tall

“Years of tears and days of toil/ Are now but fears and tyrants’ spoil;/ Ordainment has surely come to pass, / But endure alone one must this farce.

“Now ‘patience is of virtue’ taught/ And virtue is of iron wrought;/ So poetry is in motion set/ (Perhaps, with appreciation met).

“Still the paper do I pen,/ knowing what, but never when — / As dreams begin, and nightmares end — /I’m homeward bound to beloved tend.”

The torture of Jumah al Dossari at Guantanamo was detailed in INSIDE THE WIRE, by former military intelligence soldier Erik Saar.)

A large number of legal professionals, professors, and human rights advocates contributed to this book, including those collecting and translating.

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Yes, if these men can, then we, too, can safely express our deepest thoughts in poetry.

Radine     http://www.RadinesBooks.com

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2 Responses to “POETS IN PRISON”

  1. terrysthoughtsandthreads Says:

    What a poignant blog entry, Radine. I love the lines you chose to share, and am touched that you spoke of my poetry here. Thank you!

    http://terrysthoughtsandthreads.blogspot.com/2012/06/wildflowers-in-spring-harbingers-of.html

  2. radine Says:

    As a general rule, I think reading poetry generates more close-to-the heart emotion than prose. And writing poetry certainly informs our writing and thinking and feeling ability generally!

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