This month, we are participating in the Poetry Coalition's March theme: "I am deliberate / and afraid / of nothing: Poetry & Protest." The line is from from "New Year's Day" by Audre Lorde. The theme was inspired by a number of occasions taking place next year, including the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote and the 50th anniversary of the tragic shooting of student protesters at Kent State University. It also speaks to the role poetry has played in encouraging civic and grassroots engagement, and contributed to public debate and dialogue.
Last fall, volunteer mentors who currently participate in the Poetry Center's workshop, FREE TIME: Building Community for Incarcerated Writers (part of our Art for Justice project), solicited submissions from prisoners across the country to enter into our POETRY & PROTEST contest. By our February deadline, we had received close to 100 poetry and prose submissions from writers on the inside on "the inequities and unsustainability of the American legal system and mass incarceration." Both the poetry and prose winners will be published here on the Poetry Center website over the course of the next several weeks. They will also receive cash prizes.
Today we are thrilled to feature the Poetry Honorable Mentions.
CRUSHED BY THE WHEEL OF MISFORTUNE
by Joe Vanderford
In love, but utterly alone
in that notion
Sick from rejection, never got the vaccine
My rabid heart lashed out and had a fatal bite
Me? Like a psycho-logically wounded animal
My lover, preserved forever in my mind but
in reality – his essence far beyond his grave
Do you know what society does with passionate,
damaged, women scorned? Locks them away forever.
For 33 years, I have stayed productive, deemed it
emotional solitude, to heal wounds. But like building
a ship in a bottle, what to do when finished?
No ocean, no voice but the echo of my own. Suffocating,
extinguishing my existence, while citizens curiously
glance, watch & pass by. I stand at the soundproof glass
& scream. No longer ignorant, mature enough to feel the
aftershocks of my actions. Humanity bankrupt –
no second spin of the wheel.
Do you know – you pay taxes
to keep me in the bottle, screaming?
Joe Vanderford is a trans poet and artist whose writing has been published in Poetry Unbound, Yellow Medicine Review, The Named and the Nameless, and elsewhere. Joe is currently working toward completion of his AA degree and writes from the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, where he is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
WE ARE THE WORLD
by Franklin Kapaia
we say fuck the man!
the man has no color
he’s imprisoned black, white, and all the others
he’s the same hue as you
why isn’t he with you?
question number one
aren’t we all people?
question number two
if we’re all people, labeled as equal, then why aren’t we free?
man, shoot that man!
just for some cane?
can’t you see that it’s the government
they feed off our pain!
they make the drugs
we sell the drugs
we go down to take the blame
if it’s not the drugs they’re shooting us
the ones that stay alive they put in the pen
don’t feel targeted, do something
the change starts within
we need one word
with that we’d be one again
in the streets they treat us like shit
in jail they feed us like shit
no mercy for the incarcerated innocent
dads cry for their kids
i see that every day
the stress, struggle, depression and pain
i know dads that will never see their kids again
i know dads that pray to kiss their kids again
i know dads that commit suicide over the shame
i know you heard that
now tell me that the government is not to blame
giving out ten years for ten grains
we’re judged when we get out
you say “No JOB FOR HIM!”
with no job, that’s children going hungry again
who’s going to put food on their plate?
the government? hell no!
yes, it’s the parent that you locked up for drugs trying to feed their kids
you’re taking away all the men
overpopulated prison cells
do that over and over again
isn’t that insane?
we’re not slaves my people
we have to come together
we have to break the chain
Franklin Kapaia is serving a life sentence in Massachusetts.
by Geneva J. Phillips
time turns differently spilling out
the sides of dank cells
poison honeycomb guarded with evasion
the invention of necessity
beneath humiliation squatting
spreading eye unfocused
on the middle distance
between human and non
drug dealing, assaults, sexual deviancy, extortion,
medical neglect, domestic violence, attempted murder;
all charged and convicted yet reoccurring
daily in a place of “corrections”
blind eye, cover up, hush-hush, no cell research
media blackout ban truth propaganda
parade build more prisons
they won’t die fast enough
save money, cut portions, food cost
ration paper crisis
no supplies assemble
vote no change
Geneva J. Phillips grew up in the foothills of the Winding Stair mountains in southeast Oklahoma. A poet for most of her life, Geneva makes one-of-a-kind art and poetry books and participates in Poetic Justice, a volunteer-led writing program for incarcerated writers. She was a finalist in the 2018 Pen America Prison Writing Contest. Geneva’s poetry has been published in AWST Press, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She currently works in the education department at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is serving an 18-year sentence.