Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Light From Another Country

The Light From Another Country:  Poetry From American Prisons Edited by Joseph Bruchac         326 pages                  

A book of poetry written by inmates throughout the American prison system.     It really weaves a tapestry of many nationalities bringing a blend of many backgrounds, many experiences, many viewpoints together in one book form.   I enjoyed it very much.   From the witty to the sullen, from the gritty to the soulful.     Many are like psalms, words that could be spoken to music like cries from within to a higher power.   Some are angry shaking a proverbial fist in the face of what they are dealing with confined behind walls and bars within those walls.    Some are avant garde going in new and unusual directions or themes,  but gripping in their intensity and purpose.     Some share folklore from their childhoods woven into retellings to keep the old ways alive but in condensed new versions.    Some recall love lost or waiting outside the walls or in their dreams at night or newly found within the walls -the love that shall not be named, that cannot be openly expressed for fear of repercussion from the prison officials, but continues to  exist and many declare in their odes within the pages found here.    It is so touching and heart rending to read the words of the prisoner waiting for the moonlight to show through the bit of view they have of a window or the prisoner in the hole who’s only human contact is when their ration of food is pushed through the slot in the door and no one speaks to them and they are not allowed to speak nor hear anything nor know anything of the outside, even their photos of home and loved ones taken away from them and destroyed.   They often describe the stone of the walls, the humiliation of sharing a cell and the smells of bodily waste that cannot be gotten away from or the burning pain of tears held back,  of the guilt they feel for hurting their mothers, disappointing their fathers or missing a loved one’s funeral or being led in the mortuary in chains, handcuffs and shackles, the fear from day to day what might come and the horror of watching inmates kill and be killed with makeshift implements and how cons become so accustomed to the fighting and expiration of fellow inmates that they can joke about how the expired one didn’t like eggs and that is what they were having on the menu that day so he got out of that.    Some have the cavalier “Cool Hand Luke” attitude of Paul Newman’s character in the film, some have the militant tones of Huey Newton raging against the injustice and lack of respect for their human rights while some of the poets and writers muse on the crimes they were incarcerated for.     While nothing could ever totally describe what life must be like in prison, these writers each  give us a glimpse through their eyes capturing the time, the emotion and the ultimate experience in their own words.    Bravo!   Well done.  

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