Lyric poetry carries the expression of the solitary human voice. Does it then follow that solitary confinement is a school for great poetry? This episode brings together a group of interpreters who learned in prison to hear poetry’s “call.” Learn from Senator John McCain, playwright and activist Anna Deavere Smith, poets Reginald Dwayne Betts and Li-Young Lee, and four exonerated prisoners about poetry’s special resonance for those behind bars.
Interested in learning more? Poetry in America offers a wide range of courses, all dedicated to bringing poetry into classrooms and living rooms around the world.
I call for you cultivation of strength in the dark.
in the vertigo cold.
In the hot paralysis.
Under the wolves and coyotes of particular silences.
Text of “To Prisoners” by Gwendolyn Brooks taken from To Disembark, Third World Press Foundation, 1981.
Cell at the Eastern State Penitentiary, now a museum, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Corridor, Eastern State Penitentiary, now a museum, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
North end of Cell Block "A," Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
John McCain with squadron. John S. McCain, III Collection (AFC/2001/001/07736), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress