Prison poetry is part of a rich and vibrant literary movement. The Prison Poetry Workshop team wants to share the multimedia materials folks have shared with us as we have traveled the country and combed our nation's archives. From handwritten poems to old video footage from homemovie collections we share the power and beauty of prison poetry as we dig deeper into each of the stories we cover or share something that couldn't make it into the series.
PPW went to the amazing D.C. venue Bus Boys and Poets and recorded Free Minds Book Club performing their work along with with writer and former NBA basketball player Etan Thomas. The room was packed and the response felt like a homecoming.
Every month Free Minds hosts a Write Night where community members in D.C. gather to provide feedback on the writing of their Book Club members still incarcerated. Poems are read and multiple comments are written onto each poem and then mailed by to the writer.
PWP was in Washington, DC learning about the most incredible book club:"Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop: Free Minds uses books and creative writing to empower young inmates to transform their lives."
While in prison Etheridge Knight corresponded with the revered poet Gwendolyn Brooks. In this 1986 talk with Alan Jabbour, director of the Library of Congress' American Folklore division, and E. Ethelbert Miller, poet and director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University Brook's shares some background on her life Brooks was the Library of Congress' 29th consultant in poetry, and tells the story in this program of winning the Pulitzer at age 32, and getting the phone call in the dark because the electric company had cut off their power because they couldn't afford to pay the bill. She recites "We Real Cool," a poem she says has lasted because of its "insouciance and staccato effect."
We visited both Etheridge Knight's archival collections at both the University of Toledo and Butler University and looked through his papers. The publication "Poems from Prison" by Broadside Press was a turning point in Knight's life as a poet.
Waiting for Etheridge Knight when he was released from prison was poet Gwendolen Brooks. Here we share with you the essential Brooks with "We Real Cool."
We headed up to Indianapolis to discover Etheridge Knight's story and found a rich community of poets, jazz musicians, and artists where still today keep arts alive and kicking. Carl Hines, poet and jazz musician, let us spend a morning listening to him play and recorded some poems for us.