Sunday, 6 March 2011

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Lumb Bank

I’ve been running a residential writing week for ex-offenders this week. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of people travel so far in such a short space of time. Writing can – and does – transform lives. Some of the participants were writing for their very survival. What the tabloids fail to mention is that people who end up in prison have often been victims of crime themselves – grooming by paedophiles, grooming by junkies and dealers, terrible violence within the home, terrible violence within the so-called care system. Imagine watching your mother or father dying of alcoholism. Imagine being rescued from an abusive situation only to end up in another one, except this time it’s run by people who know how to work the system. If you believe your life is worth nothing, then the chances are, you’ll behave as though it is.

But, here on Thursday night was a group of people reading poems about the magic of numbers, stories about runaways and dogs, poems about the death of a child, about being a bird, about space travel and hiding under the stairs, about beatings and falling in love. For some of them, these were the first stories and poems they'd ever written. It was also they first time they'd stood before an audience. I saw poise, humanity, conviction and absolute professionalism. There were some exquisite deliveries that held us rapt. They shone. This was more than survival. This was a celebration of life, even with all its horrors.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Lumb Bank
Pat Winslow

Through a square of old glass
a new day.

In the kitchen, cooking ideas,
they bend to the task
with vigour
while the fox pads
between them.

The thrush has thirteen ways
of waking me up
and does it twice
which makes it twenty-six
or sometimes thrice
which makes it thirty-nine.

A fat black sheep
in the field decides to be
a fat black cat for a day
and stumbles at the first attempt.

I know a man
who can tell you
all about the number 23.
If you ask him,
he’ll probably tell you about 13
but he won’t do it twice.

The pen or the needle?
The bottle or the book?
If one could kill the other
what then?

The thrush outside my window
also has thirteen different ways
of disturbing a poem...


Bring bedsocks.

One night I counted
twelve mountain bikers
with halogen lights
one tawny owl
and the three stars of Orion’s belt
but I did not count the cigarettes
in the ashtrays the next day.

There were five magic beans.
We all ate them.
We were all responsible
for what followed
even if it did make us cry
and hold one another tight.

Stone and moss
and stone and wood
and stone and leaf
and stone and book
and book
and book
and book.

Packed bags
and toast crumbs
and a brand new key in every pocket.

Not the best poem I've ever written, but it's an immediate reaction and picks out some  memorable moments.

Here's a plug for the Writers in Prisons Network 
and another one for my co-tutor, Melvin Burgess

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