No Beauty in Cell Bars: Talking with Spoon Jackson

Olivia Durif in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

“Prisons are created internally / and are found everywhere.” My conversations with Spoon Jackson keep returning to this point, a line from one of his poems. Prisons are both real and imaginary. All people experience some kind of prison, some to a greater degree than others. Those degrees are not coincidental. Jackson, a 63-year-old Black man, has been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 42 years and has lived in a series of prisons. He discovered poetry one day, about 30 years ago, sitting in his cell, looking over the bay at San Quentin. At least that’s how he tells it.

Since then, he has won four PEN America Prison Writing Awards for his poetry. In 1988, Jackson played Pozzo in a historic production of Waiting for Godot at San Quentin. In 2010, he co-authored By Heart, a joint memoir he wrote with his poetry teacher, Judith Tannenbaum. Jackson’s poetry and life have inspired more than one full-length documentary. I had known of him and his poetry since 2016, when I spent a New York spring doing editorial work for Die Jim Crow, now the first nonprofit record label for currently and formerly incarcerated musicians.

More here.