Poetry at Walla Walla Penitentiary and Coyote Ridge Correctional Center

Prison Library Poetry Workshops

This photo by Alan Berner for The Seattle Times does an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere. I walked long corridors like this to get to the library. (See http://projects.seattletimes.com/2014/prison-labor/1/)
This photo by Alan Berner for The Seattle Times does an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere. I walked several long corridors like this to get to the prison library. (See http://projects.seattletimes.com/2014/prison-labor/1/)

“I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,”

I began the workshops at the Walla Walla Penitentiary and Coyote Ridge Correctional Center with Stanley Kunitz’s “The Layers.” It’s a poem I’ve carried with me for years, and often recite at the start of readings. I also hoped that its images and ideas would speak to the incarcerated men I had just met.

“When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength”

With both groups, I read a couple of my own poems, and listened as they read theirs aloud. We talked about revision and how to write so that our work might connect across wildly different life histories. With the smaller group at WW Pen, we also discussed poems by Lucille Clifton (“memory”) and Yusef Komunyakaa (“Facing It”).

“In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.”

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