Prisoners have long written poetry from inside the prison walls. For incarcerated men and women—as for all who have the urge to write poetry—Robert Frost’s words ring true: the poem “begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” Poetry is the need to express what’s locked up inside, and for the prisoner, the bars are real.
Sending a poem into the blogosphere is, however, a relatively new way for prisoners to find their voice. Boston University’s Robert Pinsky, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, says in an interview on Big Think that prisoners serving a life sentence often write the best poetry since they have a lot of time to reflect and read. While many poems by prisoners wouldn’t make it past your high school English teacher, some talented jailed New England poets are emerging online.
The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild publishes poetry once a month from those first published in its Mass Dissent magazine. The power of poetry is what helped Douglas Weed, incarcerated at MCI Norfolk, to dig deep into his crime and his subsequent remorse is not unlike Raskolnikov’s soul searching in Crime and Punishment. Here is Weed’s Ode to a Prison Prophet from October 2012:
Five thousand days akimbo toward his end
he mourns the vacant life he’s lost.
The fee he pays for mortal sin cannot pretend
to cancel debts or fray the cost.
(This article first appeared on BostonMag.com and is excerpted here by permission.)
Jean Trounstine is an activist, teacher and author/editor of five published books, including the highly praised Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women’s Prison. She worked at Framingham Women’s Prison for ten years where she directed eight plays, and in 1991, she co-founded the women’s branch of Changing Lives Through Literature, an internationally-known reading intervention for probationers. She has written numerous articles about her work, most recently for Boston Magazine: “For the Massachusetts Parole Board, It’s Time for a Change,” November, 2012. She takes apart the criminal justice system brick by brick by blogging for Boston Daily, the Rag Blog and at “Justice With Jean,” www.jeantrounstine.com.