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This report is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.

Reflections on Writing Good Sentences in Prison Stephen Wade

The prisoner walked into my creative writing class, a broad smile on his face, and gave me a notebook with line drawings on the cover. 'You're the writing bloke aren't you? These are poems. Tell me if they're crap.'

I had been in my writing residency for about three weeks, taking a group for poetry. They were seasoned writers, all with their rhymed love lyrics in their heads: no need for paper really. Anything without end-rhyme challenged them but they were patient and receptive. I was the one in shock, and that was because I expected poetry to be denigrated in the world of hard men inside. I couldn't have been more wrong. A poet inside is valued, often because he can help write a love poem for the partner, wife or husband outside, of course.

Two days later I took the man's poems back to him and said I had enjoyed them. I realised that was not enough. He wanted a little dissection and then some advice. From that early experience, I have been thinking long and hard about what is the genuine use of poetry in prisons.

I am in my second residency for the Writers in Prison Network, run by two of the most enthusiastic workers in the front line of where words struggle to go to places previously unknown to them. They are Pauline Bennett and Clive Hopwood. From their base they supervise prison residencies across the land every ...

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