Rachel Richardson: Escape Artists

In her article about studying poetry with prisoners, Rachel Richardson shares the intricacies of the endeavor. Here is an extract:

My partner and I went into the prison to write and hear poems, to share poetry with a group of men who might want to have this art in their lives. That was our theory. Any prisoner in good standing who was interested could show up. That meant we got the occasional gawkers—hey, you don’t see too many women here—and drifters just looking for a way to pass time, but within a few weeks the group settled into a serious workshop. Just tell your class they have to bring and share an original poem every week, and the class winnows itself quickly.

Leading a poetry workshop in such a place—a total institution, to use the anthropological term for a community defined by its complete isolation from the outside world—actually requires very little, in my experience. In showing up, the facilitator cracks open a door to the outside. In coming every week in good faith, he or she values the words of the people inside. These may seem small gestures to people who have the privilege to come and go as they please, to choose how to spend their days—but aren’t these gestures the foundations for any relationship, with people or with a poem? You show up. You listen. You open yourself to whatever you might find.

For the full article, visit bit.ly/ZD408Y

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