Day 8 – Loss, Home, and Poems

Finally back on Manx soil (after what feels like far more travelling than I signed up for!), one bag down – but hopefully soon to be reunited with me.

Although I am now home I definitely want to continue to share the writers’ poems with you, so will keep posting them. I will also do a round up post over the coming days to discuss how I feel the trip went.

Here is some work by a fantastic writer called Anthony (from the poetry slam). If you would be interested in corresponding with him, or any of the other writers about their work then please get in touch and I can pass on details.

Nature pt. 1
All night in moon light
Flowers sleep awaiting day
To wake up and smile…

Nature pt. 2
Humming birds dance light
For smiles filled with nectar
Drunk from sweet delight.

Boss
Pressed suits with clean ties,
Rush hour traffic came to work,
Upper echelon.

Instruction Poem
1st line ends with a famous person, like Lebron James
2nd line rhymes with the 1st, just the same.
Lines 3and 4 always ryme kind of clever
Cleroew with a clear view, equals  lines together.

Dark Side
It’s not my choice to live this way, each moment raw to the prodigious need to announce itself – Stephnanie Lennon

Barren wastelands and wandering dreams
Wishing to be great, as a child, it seems
Then one day, a man came along in a robe
Who became my master, and gave me real hope

Who travelled distant worlds, and I trained for so long
Cause’ my master said within me, the force is strong.
A boy to a man, ways of the Jedi embraced
Fell in love with a queen, with a beautiful face

Trouble came swift from foes that emerged
From stars far away, dark forces converged,

Fighting

Fighting with sabres for freedom and life
While fighting conflictions inside that still hide
Then while giving birth my queen had died
So I gave in full force to the dark side
Who am I?

Inescapable
Thoughts of all the dreams that I left behind
Always catches up to me in full force
Chasing me down as I run out of time
Way faster than powerful cars full of horse.

Love or Hate
What is love anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?
Or does everybody hate everyone equal?
The same way I hate rain fall with the sky grey
Or how they ruin a good movie with a shitty sequel.
What is hate anyway? Does anybody hate anybody anyway?
Or does everybody love everyone the same?
The same way I love with my heart on my sleeve
Or droppin’ 40 points with a win in a hoop game,
What an adrenaline rush, which I love, I am he.
But what is love anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?
Or is it equal hate?

Communication
See, the verbal punch I made dropped incomprehensible assigned presentation.
The analytical structural dynamics was clear and concise.
Embellish the definition in the dictionary.
Public speaking was unfortunate for a couple reasons.
First, our self-concious.
Second, communications was gorgeous.
My shotgun tongue-tied communicating rippled.
Through with riveting structures of focused themes.
In performance I desire productions taught through theatre
With expanded dreams.

Poetry
We all declare material poetry,
I pursue useful vocation about uncertain
Futures where poetry pounds,
There’s nothing in it?
Poetry was right-and wrong.
Nothing can be very nearly the everything.
Disowned interest, I had none.
A prodigal, I had to adopt my own antecedents.
In quest they survived, obscure, and technical.
They finally worked,
Now scattered, like poets imagined.
These poor poets live, forever servants of the servants,
From the word of publishing.

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Day 7 – Portland, ‘Merica, and Poetry.

Today was my last proper day in Oregon so my lovely host Michele took me to Portland to see the Saturday markets. I met up with an old friend, and was lucky enough to get to go and see Mount Hood’s peak from one of the local viewing points.

Mt Hood.jpg
Mt. Hood (white peak in the distance)

On the drive back to Salem from Oregon we passed two young gentlemen with a “Honk for ‘Merica” sign, and particularly patriotic hats – this led to an interesting conversation about nationalism. Would you “fight for your country?”, what does this really mean? Michele told me how there are clubs for ex-servicemen in the prisons she visits, and about the huge numbers of veterans who are committing suicide every day in the US. It’s sad that people who have undertake brave actions “for their country” are now being failed by it. It’s certainly not the American dream. Which ties in with the work below.

Most importantly – today I re:read the poems which some of the writers from SCI prison gave me yesterday. I’ll post them author by author – today’s poems are by Joseph.

American Dream

They try to sell me,
The American dream
Before they sell me.
To D.O.C. for 7 and a half years
In the penitentiary.
This new form of slavery.
Gotta brother like me.
Askin’ if his motha
To pray for thee.
Who knows
Maybe your god can save me.
Because this is not what I’m meant to be.
My fear, my lost, my life.
Ain’t no game to me.
This power that I found some
Would call it bravery.
But the day I’m free
You can guarantee.
That I won’t be chasing the American dream.

Empowerment

Being black is much more than how you
Look, or where you are from. Black is
Always being judged because of your skin
Colour, people pushing their ignorant stereotypes on you, or being
Killed because you have a hoodie on, Skittles and an Arizona Ice-Tea and by the

Looks of it you’re up to no good, but that is just
Incompetence mixed with hate which is favoured when dealing with
Violence inflicted upon African Americans, when you are a pig with a badge
Evidence of this is shown by how my people have been treated for years which
Shows us far too many acts of

Murder and mutilation committed against African Americans but it’s
Always “justified” hen they tell us
That it was our own fault or how
There just isn’t enough
Evidence to put these murderers behind bards. So we
Realize that the justice we wish to see will not come without a fight.

If you would be interested in corresponding with any of the inside writers regarding poetry then please get in touch – I will be able to pass on details of how to do so.

Thank you for reading.

Day 6 – Santiam Slam, Trees, and Silver Falls

Today once again began with outfits – ensuring that there was no blue, nothing inappropriate. More gates, more ID checks, number 27.

We entered Santiam Correctional Facility and headed straight for the stage on which the Santiam Poetry Slam would be performed. The writers were already present, having hoovered and laid out chairs, and the space was truly fantastic. Walking into prison is a weird experience, I’m lucky enough to know I’ll be walking back out (and exactly when) but that’s certainly not true for everyone. The environment itself has its own special feeling, and certain spaces seem to subvert that – today the stage was one of them. It was lovely to chat with the performers before we all took to the stage, I answered questions about Brexit, and chatted about football, the Isle of Man, and poetry.

Our fantastic MC compared the event, telling us a little bit about each poet before he took to the stage. These poems had true power – and I will be posting them all in a blog tomorrow to give them the space and weighting they deserve. There was commentary on race relations, on the difficulties faced in low income areas, problematic relationships, and all manner of other things. I’ve been trying to work out exactly how to put the power of it into words, but I can’t – so I’ll give the poets the space to share their work instead. Today’s performance was recorded and I will be providing a link to the video once it is finished and online so that you can see the writers read  their own work.

I spoke last, and wasn’t really sure I felt able to follow what had come before. Luckily my accent carried me! Afterwards one of the students mentioned to their poetry teacher that it was unfair she hadn’t warned them that “poetry sounds better in an English accent”. I did try and explain how much I loved all their accents too.

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Reading at SCI

My favourite part of the event was just chatting to the writers after the slam, I got a chance to speak to them more generally, to ask about how they felt about the writing programmes within the prisons – every single man spoke incredibly highly of the work that the teaching staff do within the institution.

It was fairly late by the time we had finished chatting, but there was still time to head to Silver Falls – a famous waterfall in the state. The fls were incredible. The weather was cool enough to not burn too much, and shaded enough to not wear sun cream.]

Silver Falls
Silver Falls – Oregon

Day 5 -Readings, Trump, and Brexit

I began my day by writing a thank you letter – the session yesterday was incredibly important to me, and I really wanted to convey to the writers just how much I appreciated them allowing me to come and be part of their class. If anyone missed the post you can read poetry of the incarcerated writers here – any feedback you can provide (even if it’s just whether you liked their work or not) would be greatly appreciated, it will all be passed on to the group.

While writing the letter I started to think about the excellently creative swearing we’re lucky enough to have in the British Isles, one of the men had told me his favourite word was “shit” – but it just didn’t sound as good in my accent. I challenged myself to write a poem focusing only on those artful curses, and ended up with what was probably my most popular poem of the day.

Donald

Cocksplat, fucktrumpet, insufferable dick.
You really deserve a very good kick.
Right wing numpty, complete and utter pillock,
We wish you’d dissolve – as if hydrophilic.

Gobbagh, wanker, all round prick.
Your misogynistic bollocks makes us a bit sick.
Daft as a brush, and thick as clarts.
You’re going to destroy the liberal arts.

Knobbler, plonker, unfathomable cock
With policies ill conceived, and adhoc.
Eejit, jizztrumpet, a weapons grade plum
Not the Whitehouse America, please don’t be so dumb.

I read this – along with many of my other poems to a fantastic crowd at Chemeketa College. This was followed by a Q&A session where I talked about the role of Manx Bard, life on the Isle of Man, my processes as a poet, and, the most pressing of all issues – Brexit. The reading was in a beautiful room which was filled with windows, cushions, and fantastically subversive art. A perfect setting for anything poetic! The audience ranged widely in age and demographic and included some children (who were deemed able to listen to a slightly sweary Manx poet).

Poetry Reading.jpg
Reading at Chemeketa College

After the reading it was back to Michele (my host for the trip)’s house to organise for a cocktail party – this was a less formal gathering of college staff, those who work on the inside, students from Chemeketa, and management from the college. This was a perfect place to discuss the prison system in the United States and a chance for me to learn more about the experiences of incarcerated men, and also to discuss writing workshop prompt ideas, and ideas about expansion of work. It was also a chance for a less formal reading, and another highly requested rendition of Donald.

Day 4 – Inside, Outside, and the Capitol

I want to preface this blog by saying that I did not know, and did not want to know what any of the students today were incarcerated for. I have never introduced myself to someone by telling them the worst thing I have ever done, and I would assume you wouldn’t want to either.

This morning began with a desperate panic about clothes – not because of a need to pick the perfect outfit, but because of the guest requirements in a prison. My outfit needed to cover my hips and arse, and couldn’t be low cut; bras needed to be wire free; and pockets had to be fully emptied to make security screening easier. This is the reality of prison.

We passed through multiple check points on the way in, I became number 6. There were warnings about hostage situations, and a complex system of bars to navigate.

I must admit that before going inside I was nervous. More nervous about the guards than meeting the students, however everyone was kind to me. It didn’t cancel out the surroundings though – prison is aggressive, it’s watch towers, and it’s barbed wire.

Walking into the chapel area where the class was held was freshness, it’s light and airy in there and has windows which look out over the gardens (where the prison grows produce), and the walls. The students were ready and waiting for us armed with water to drink, and lots of questions about Brexit, my Bardship, and the Isle of Man – all of which I was very glad to answer. I facilitated a few exercises, including an article rewrite where we discussed the bias in media’s reporting of crimes. The class were all advocates of better mental health care, however there was some division regarding gun policies. I have never facilitated a class like it, and I don’t know if I ever will again. Every single person in that room wanted to be there, they responded beautifully and honestly to writing prompts, and taught me a lot about their experiences and perceptions. I will be including their poems below this entry because their work stands by itself – please take some time to read them and provide some feedback if possible (this will be passed on, and greatly appreciated!).

In all, this was an experience I am unbelievably glad to have had – I’m grateful to the students for allowing me to facilitate a class, and for teaching me the difference between rap, poetry, and songs.

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Facilitating in Oregon State Penitentiary

We squeezed in a quick interview with Manx Radio once we returned, and then shot off to the Capitol for a tour with Paul Evans (state representative for District 20). I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the staircase and gorgeous high ceilings of the Capitol building.

Capitol Building
Capitol Building
Tour of Capitol
With Paul Evans and Griffin McCormack

Finally, I ended the day with a stop at the memorial to the Second World War. This stands outside of the Capitol building. The area in which it stands has its own peaceful atmosphere, and allows time for reflection – the various plaques at the base of the memorial taught me a lot about the Oregonian experience of the conflict.

War Memorial.jpg

Poetry from the Inside:

“Poetry is my freedom in confinement
Poetry has given me life amongst death,
Poetry remains my light in these shadows,
Poetry has become honesty in place of lies
Poetry is, what I make it.”
David.

“Poetry is a voice for the voiceless
Poetry is expression of the silent heart
That is full. It is a thousand ways
To express our words. It is how I understand
Myself. It is sorrow and joy.
Poetry is the prettiest of all ladies and the
Handsomest of all men. She is this
Writer’s lover, dark and mysterious. It is
Something I can leave behind that
Will let me hold the world without me in it.
Poetry is brutal honesty without consequence.
Poetry is rebellion without law of
Punctuation or insistencepn dependent clauses.
Poetry is mine and she will never leave me.”
Benjamin.

“Poetry is the abstract meaning of the heart.
It is mystifying.
The heart becoming tangible.
The unknown becoming the known.
It is the spirit of Man (maybe the Island of Man).”
Francisco

“Poetry is my apology to the world”
Erik

“Poetry is a bunch of words that bring a different set of emotions.
Poetry is a tale like a song.
Poetry is a rant”
Lance

“Poetry is words as they jumble and dance
Phrases of blah mixed with passion
Regurgitated thoughts of a creative mind”
Chad

“Poetry is a trillion emotions running like rivers
Through the anatomy of my pen from the
Vestibule of my soul… water for the soul”
So

“Poetry is my expressionistic voice
That carries far beyond the walls
Where the seaside is a legacy
To be shared by generations beyond
Our own so that they may have
In our joys, our failures, our loves,
Our losses, and our overwhelming victories,
Over life as we know it. It is
The essence of me flowing through
Time as a sweet fragrance to
Entice passers by to pause
To admire the scent long since
Gone. It is a life that flows from the fount of a pen”
Chip

“Poetry is all
Poetry is all about
Poetry is all about ME.

You might not understand it
You might even find it meaningless
But, poetry is all about ME.

The words do have meaning,
The words do have life.
Because, poetry is all about ME.”
Michael

“Poetry is: To love.
An expression of my inner being
Things not normally human or seen
It is a way to protest a world of constant change
A form in which I can remain sane.
Words that make sense when
Unmoved from my head
Giving me a voice in a world
To otherwise I am dead.
Finally poetry is a way to make
Sense out of the senseless.
Poetry is love for
Poetry whether in words or action
Is the rhythm of all life.
There is poetry in the honey bee
In the buds ever so sweetly
In the ocean waves that crash against the shores
In Stacey and Octopus – who just wanted more.
Poetry is love.”
Jimmy

Some of the prisoners also make and record their own music – this is done with recording equipment they have purchased and is all done from their cells. You can find more about this here. They use their platform to help raise funds for children who do not have music programmes.

Day 2 and 3 – Planning, Research, and Books

The last two days have involved lots of meetings dedicated to discussing how best to include all of the things we want to over the coming days of events. Tomorrow I will be guest facilitator a writing workshop for incarcerated men in Oregon State Penitentiary – I’ve found newspaper articles to be rewritten in a variety of styles, poems to be sliced up and used as poetry puzzles, and planned out how best to summarise our wonderful island for the men. I’m excited, but nervous.

A lot of our talks have led me to think a lot about prison experience – there has been mention of the loss of personhood which is experienced, and the reduction of a name to a number. Poetry, writing, and using words are a way to escape that reality. These classes are so important, and heading fantastically inspiring teachers discuss their work has encouraged me to think a lot about how appreciative I am of the position I am in.

On a slightly lighter note, there was time for an excursion to Salem city centre – I wore my Super Manx tshirt and met lots of interesting people on my way. My absolute highlight of this trip was a shop called Book Bin.

Book Bin

There was books for days – and the entire shop was an absolute haven as it was incredibly warm today and I’d walked in from the outskirts of town. I was sweaty, and a bit grumpy when I saw a shop with this sign in its window, how could I walk past?

Store Cat

For tomorrow’s workshop, we’re going to ask you to take part in a group poem along with the men, and the Secret Poet Society .

Please tell us what poetry is, comment it, or write/draw your words and take a photo of them to post below.

e.g.
Poetry is hard
Poetry is more than words
Poetry is free

 

 

See you tomorrow!

Day 1 – Planning and Pacific City

I always forget how stressful travelling can be (probably as a form of self preservation!) and this was certainly a stressful trip, but despite the slight detour via Seattle I made it to Portland (five hours later than planned). Having showered for the first time in 24 hours (bliss), and slept like a baby I was ready to face my first day in Salem, OR.

This morning consisted of a planning session with Michele – we thought about our writing workshop for the inmates on Wednesday, and discussed the best options for an engaging class which broke down some of the competitive and elitist notions of what poetry ‘should’ be. Hopefully we have an excellent class planned, and there’s going to be plenty of photographs to share on Wednesday.

Afternoon meant a trip to Pacific City – a beautiful beach about an hour and a half from Salem.

Pacific City

We wrote some haikus together about the beach, and scraped them into the sand (although due to the wind they blew away very quickly).

“Sand rewrites itself
Grazing cheeks. Half submerged feet
Hide from blazing sun”

Tomorrow will be a day for further planning, research, and getting you all involved.

See you tomorrow!

Day 0 – Travelling

I’m off!

It’s been twelve years since I last flew to America, and today I’m writing from Heathrow as I prepare to go back. Luckily London’s tube system has treated me kindly, and I’m here in good time so able to sit with a cup of coffee and take some time before the flight to tell you a bit about my trip.

So, why am I going, and why should you care?

I’m travelling to Salem, in Oregon to work with the fantastic Michele Dishong McCormack of Chemeketa College – I will be travelling to the Penned Thoughts group at Oregon State Penitentiary to run a writing workshop, hosting a poetry slam event at Santiam Correctional Institution, reading poetry at Chemeketa College, meeting staff and students, as well as running an overarching group poetry project (which I’ll give you details of how to join in with soon!). This trip is part of Michele’s wider work to promote education within the prison system – she works with college students both inside and outside of the system, and promotes equal educational opportunity. This trip is on an exchange basis, and she will be visiting the Isle of Man in the coming years.

In the US I will be acting as a cultural ambassador for the Isle of Man (I have Manx Knobs, and Fairy Bridge teabags to accompany the discussions of folklore, nationality, and opportunity afforded by the island), as well as continuing to promote the inclusive nature of poetry.

Thank you all for reading!