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On Teaching Poetry In A Men’s High Security Prison

By Raymond Antrobus

I was searched at every edge. I wanted everyone, including me, to be innocent. One inmate squeezed my hand like a letter he’d been hoping for. In the workshop, he read his poem. I applauded. He hugged me. He smelt of stale soap. Leaning in, his stubble sandpapered my softer jaw. He tells me what he did.  

He was drunk the night he blacked out, opened his eyes in the kitchen, his wife who wanted divorce, on the floor, dead. I see his wedding ring. I wish I knew her name so I could plant it here.

The next week, the poetry showcase is almost cancelled which causes the inmates to riot. The inmates won. I arrived at the prison for the last time. Flowers placed on all the tables. An inmate read, held himself like his mother’s favourite plant pot. After his poem, everyone applauded, even the guards. The tattooed fists of all those muscular men reached for flowers.

Thrown at men’s feet,
Anaconda red tulips,
Jewels of blood.




Listen as Raymond Antrobus reads
"On Teaching Poetry In A Men's High Security Prison."

Added: Monday, October 21, 2019  /  Used with permission.
Raymond Antrobus
Photo by Marcus Jackson.

Raymond Antrobus was born in London, Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father, he is the author of The Perseverance. In 2019, he became the first-ever poet to be awarded the Rathbone Folio Prize for best work of literature in any genre. Other accolades include the Ted Hughes Award, PBS Winter Choice, a Sunday Times & The Guardian Poetry Book of the Year 2018, as well as a shortlist for the Griffin Prize and Forward Prize. In 2018, he was awarded The Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, judged by Ocean Vuong, for his poem “Sound Machine.” Also in 2019, his poem “Jamaican British” was added to the English General Certificate of Secondary Education syllabus. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works 3, and Jerwood Compton. He is also one of the world's first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word education from Goldsmiths University.

Other poems by this author