WHAT YOU'LL FIND ON THIS BLOG

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Reasons why Fran quite liked being in prison

I went to prison last year.  Some of you may remember my mentioning it.  Don't worry - no one had found the millions under my mattress.  (Phew!)  No, I was actually there to run a poetry workshop.  All the prisoners were male and sentenced to at least four years in jail, so their crimes must have been pretty serious.  But I had a fabulous day and their responses to the workshop were very moving and often skilful.

I thought I'd post one of the poetry exercises I did with the prisoners.  It worked really well and you're welcome to use it if you're a teacher, or have a go if you're a writer.  If you're neither of these, the pictures are quite nice ...

First, I showed them a picture of a market.

  
I'd written a plain description of what was happening.

Plain description
People are looking at the produce.
Traders try to advertise their wares.

Then I showed them my attempt to turn the plain description into something that was more of a (draft) poem.


Turning it into poetry
The Saturday picky shuffle
past giant beef tomatoes,
pyramids of brazen oranges,
fat prize leeks, like weapons.
‘Only a pound,’ bawls a man
with a red face and a failing farm
into the cynical air.

We analysed together what the difference was between the plain description and the poem, despite the fact that both contained two similar ideas.  We explored the following techniques:

1. Have something you want to say (I wanted to express the idea of the desperate farmer, needing to sell to survive)
2. Use poetic devices such as strong verbs, visual adjectives, metaphors and similes, colour, alliteration, personification etc
3. Try to be economical with language and use only necessary words.
4. Decide on specific line breaks.

Next, I gave them a picture of a ship in a storm, and a plain description.  



 Plain description
The waves are massive.
Men on the ship know it’s sinking.


They had to use the techniques we'd discussed in order to write their own versions.  It wasn't until they'd done this that I showed them the one I'd written, which is below, but I've left a big space, in case you want to do what they did and not see it until you have your own go first.  Then scroll down.  









































Turning it into poetry

The sea vomits the ship out in disgust
like a sour meal.
A man clings to his cabin bed
as to a lover

and whispers sweet nothings.



I was seriously impressed by the creativity of the prisoners.  This was only one of the exercises we did.  We had a fabulous time trying out comic poetry, too, and I know from the feedback they wrote for me that they had benefited from the day and it had got them out of their cells.  What shocked me was that the only way they ever did this kind of creative activity was if a volunteer came in; the budget for anything creative or 'arty' had been completely cut.

Now that's criminal.  

22 comments:

  1. I did a couple of sessions in a prison, too (creative writing, not "time"). My abiding memories will be (a) the amazing talent of one of the participants and (b) overhearing another singing "please release me, let me go" on his way to a fag break.

    Love your examples, by the way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please Release Me! Brilliant!

      Delete
  2. That's brilliant! I can imagine you getting on really well with the prisoners. Bet they loved your workshop. Really inspiring post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can imagine me getting on well with the prisoners? What's that supposed to mean?!!

      Delete
  3. That's really cool. Thank you for volunteering. My mother grew up in prison.

    Love,
    Janie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like a whole lot of story behind that comment.

      Delete
  4. Poetry and me just don't get along, but I like the ones you wrote, especially the market one, that first line, The Saturday picky shuffle, describes my market days perfectly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that's some of what poetry's about, River. Just saying things in a way that people recognise in a 'Yep, that's me' moment.

      Delete
  5. As I have long believed, poetry is for everybody not just the few.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amen. Preach it, brother.

      Delete
  6. A huge amount of prisoners are Dyslexic, have failed at school and turned to crime. I believe some prisons do run a reading scheme using Toe by Toe ( which my children used )
    Good for you !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I think part of the appeal of poetry workshops etc is that it's all about creativity and not about how you spell. I found that day that most of them 'discovered' they could be imaginative and moving and funny, even without some of the literacy advantages of others.

      Delete
  7. Our college used to teach prisoners. The great disadvantage for the lecturers was that some prisoners knew the texts better than the teachers, having spent 23 hours a day in their cells with nothing else to do.

    We used to get prisoners on day release too. The most memorable one was a chap who informed the class that he'd got life for murdering his wife and impaling her to the ground with a fence post. (Must have been a pretty pointed fence post, we felt.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My lot didn't tell me any of their crimes. I felt quite comfortable with that ...

      Delete
    2. Might have given you material for your next novel. A bit of a departure from the last one, granted.

      Delete
    3. Oh, I don't know. One set in a school. One set in a prison. In one, you learn valuable stuff you wouldn't learn elsewhere, whereas in school, you don't.

      Delete
    4. School gives you no time off for good behaviour; in fact only for bad behaviour... Still, as you say, there are definitely similarities.

      Good exercise, though, returning to the point. Food for thought.

      Delete
  8. My father used to do this , too , and said he'd never had such rapt students and always wondered how the cleverest had still managed to be so daft as to think that crime was a sensible career choice .
    IBy the way , if you go again , you should try to get them to throw in some lunch . Prison food is designed to keep them all quiet . Their thick rice pudding topped with lashings of custard is legendary , apparently .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thick rice pudding and custard - you know me so well!

      Delete
  9. Working with participants in a prison setting is pretty powerful stuff. I never had the guts to do it, but I facilitated a ten week workshop with teens who had lost a parent, (since I did too.) Here is a very short video from Write Around Portland, one of the very best non-profits in the country: It's dynamite.

    http://www.life-change-compost.com/write-around-portland-staceys-story/

    The authenticity of the writer and the facilitator just jumps off the screen, doesn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well done you, Fran. That's a very brave and nerve racking thing to do, especially first time around. I think it is so very important that men and women in prison have a chance to experience new avenues - especially first time offenders. Education, especially when it's fun, really can make a difference!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jane. I think it's probably in those contexts where you find what education really can do. You're right.

      Delete