New York, NY (February 18, 2019)— This month, two poets—Clint Smith and Mahogany L. Browne, who are curating different features for Poets.org—will take up the issue of mass incarceration.
Clint Smith, who is the February guest editor of Poem-a-Day, will present a week of poems in partnership with Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, an organization based in Washington, D.C. he is involved with that amplifies the voices of those directly impacted by the prison system. Beginning on Monday, February 18, Poem-a-Day will feature poems by incarcerated individuals.
In consideration of the poets' privacy, their last names are withheld. In addition, because of the lack of access to technology and regular communication, we are presenting this week without an About This Poem statement. The audio version of the poems are read by Clint Smith, who had this to say about the poets and poems he is sharing this week:
Prisons, as an institution, are predicated on both physical and social isolation—on removing people from the world. So when people become incarcerated, we often lose their voices, and because we lose their voices, we lose a sense of the fact that these are people with stories far more complicated than the two-dimensional narratives about them would have you believe. My goal for this week was to select work that illuminates the realities of life for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people that are too often left out of our literary canon and public discourse.
For the sake of transparency, a few points: each incarcerated writer with a poem appearing this week has given permission for their work to be shared, but they are not using their full names to protect their privacy and to ensure their safety. There is a long history of incarcerated writers being targeted by prison officials as a result of sharing their experiences, no matter how benign it may seem. Having worked in prisons and jails for several years, I have heard these stories from incarcerated individuals firsthand. With that understanding, we wanted to do our best to share their voices without compromising their safety.
Additionally, while typically, as part of the Poem-a-Day series, writers share some context about their work below the poem, the logistics in this specific scenario made it difficult to carry out. Because communication and technology are difficult for many people in prison to access, and because the length of time it takes for physical letters to be exchanged is uncertain, given the amount of time available we decided to highlight the organization, Free Minds Book Club, that these individuals are a part of.
This process not being ideal or perfect speaks to the challenges of our justice system. I certainly recognize the constraints of attempting to share the work of incarcerated individuals, and felt those constraints should not prevent us from sharing these writers' poems altogether. My hope is that readers will sit with the work and immerse themselves in the stories of a group of people who continue to have their stories swept aside.
Launched in 2006, Poem-a-Day is distributed via email, web, and social media to 500,000+ readers free of charge. Read more about Clint Smith and his approach to curating February's Poem-a-Day here.
On February 19, Mahogany L. Browne will launch a monthly series of original essays on Poets.org that document, through the lens of writing and poetry, communities most harmed by mass incarceration, especially women and children. Browne will also curate related poems from the Poets.org collection that speak to the themes in her essays.
Both Smith and Browne are recipients of fellowships from the Arts for Justice Fund, founded by Agnes Gund with the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. These fellowships support artists and arts initiatives that call for change, expose injustice, and empower communities.
About the Academy of American Poets
The Academy of American Poets is the nation’s leading champion of poets, poetry, and the work of poetry organizations nationwide. Founded in 1934, the organization produces Poets.org, the world’s largest publicly funded website for poets and poetry; National Poetry Month; the popular Poem-a-Day series; American Poets magazine; Teach This Poem and other award-winning resources for K-12 educators; and an annual series of poetry readings and special events. In addition, the Academy of American Poets coordinates a national poetry coalition working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.