Disguised as a Poem: My Years Teaching Poetry at San Quentin

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Northeastern University Press, 2000 - Biography & Autobiography - 217 pages
When Judith Tannenbaum last met with her poetry writing class at San Quentin prison, one of the students commented, "Now I'm going to give you an assignment: write about these past four years from your point of view; tell your story; let us know what you learned." This beautifully crafted memoir is the fulfillment of that assignment.

In stirring and intimate prose, Tannenbaum details the challenges, rewards, and paradoxes of teaching poetry to maximum-security inmates convicted of capital crimes. Recounting how she and her students shared profound and complicated lessons about humanity and life both inside and outside San Quentin's walls, Tannenbaum tells provocative stories of obsession, racism, betrayal, despair, courage, and beauty. Contrary to the growing public perception of prisoners as demons, the men in this poetry class-Angel, Coties, Elmo, Glenn, Richard, Spoon-emerge not as beasts or heroes but as human beings with expressive voices, thoughts, and feelings strikingly similar to the free.

Tannenbaum provides revealing views of conditions in the cellblocks and shows how the realities of prison life often paralleled her own life experiences. She also relates such events as visits to her group by prominent poets (including Nobel Prize-winner Czeslaw Milosz); a prison production of Waiting for Godot sponsored by Samuel Beckett himself; and the presentation of her students' work to a class of sixth and eighth graders, who connected to the prisoners' words by writing their own poems to the inmates.

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Disguised as a poem: my years teaching poetry at San Quentin

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In the spring of 1985, Tannenbaum was invited to recite her poems at San Quentin, California's infamous maximum-security prison. Afterward, she was invited to teach a creative writing course in poetry ... Read full review

Disguised as a poem: my years teaching poetry at San Quentin

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

In the spring of 1985, Tannenbaum was invited to recite her poems at San Quentin, California's infamous maximum-security prison. Afterward, she was invited to teach a creative writing course in poetry ... Read full review

Contents

one The First Three Months
3
two Cleansing the Doors of Perception
26
three Endless Echoes of Steel Kissing Steel
47
four You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley
65
five Like a Poet
81
six In the Very Essence of Poetry There
100
seven LongTerm InDepth
124
nine Which Side Are You On?
162
ten Love Begins Right Here in This Place
179
Notes
201
Copyright

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About the author (2000)

JUDITH TANNENBAUM serves as Training Coordinator of the WritersCorps program in San Francisco. For over twenty-five years she has taught poetry to prisoners, primary-age children, continuation high school students, and youngsters at a summer program for gifted teenagers. She has written extensively on issues of community art and cultural democracy and is the author of Teeth, Wiggly as Earthquakes: Writing Poetry in the Primary Grades, The World Saying Yes, four chapbooks, and a portfolio of her poems. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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