Prisons and poetry: Merry Christmas everybody, all the bodies.




Happy season of spending time with our loved ones. And thoughts with those incarcerated, who cannot. Last year about this time I wrote a similar-such post about Indigenous incarceration rates in the Northern Territory. This is a post of poetry.


The poems below are taken from, Poems from Prison (1973).[1] The editor of the volume, Rodney Hall, was invited to comment on some manuscripts by prisoners at Parramatta Gaol. He declined to comment on the manuscripts but asked, rather, to speak directly with the men who had written them. His visit turned into many, and many into a series of fortnightly workshops.


‘Our meetings were described in the gaol magazine (CONtact) as: “highly informal and usually irreverent,” and leading to “a rapid maturing of the poetry being written here at Parramatta Gaol.” Highly informal indeed – most sessions are spent in a brilliant crossfire of wit and anecdote – and altogether irreverent. As to the maturing of the poetry, perhaps it has been simply the stimulus of finding an audience, but whatever the reason we’ve managed to get through a lot of work and the development has been remarkable. This book is the result’ (1973: x).


For what it is worth to know, all of the writers represented in the collection had been convicted of crimes of violence. The following poems were written by one Jack Murray.  Jack’s biographical note reads: ‘Born in Sydney 1940. Left school at twelve, started off on the wrong path, never really left it. Married with two sons. Realises poetry has opened a new world. Ambitions: to lead a completely uninvolved life’ (1973, p. 3).


Sometimes homesick


Snow taps at

the window

and sends me

into panic


I may fly

down to spain

to steal something


or shoplift

a parrot from



to send you

in a letter


Did you  know

the snow killed

Napoleons white horse?

(how could you

I just made it up)




I bought a

stick-on face

for the hustle


the trick was

in the performance

they threw more

than fruit


Wrote some poems

from prison

read them over later

found I’d blundered


there is no more

room in my world

I’ve been here



the walls drip waste

its been too long

too much



(1973, pp. 3-4)


And the following, which is particularly fitting. Also by Jack.


Second year’s end


Reality is immovable as

a statue

rust-welded to a horse

fetlocks trapped

in stone,

the revealing of finality

so many miles

from home.


What premonitions go unheeded,

smiles the moon,

constant crown witness

against me


a thousand miles

round a stone room

where no swans swim.


It’s raining in the park


artificial tears fall

from the statue’s face,


chalk-white by sweet shit.

Truth of another




(1973, p. 14).




Merry Christmas and to all a good night. And day. And year. Truly.

Warmliest of kindly regards,


Bree. x




[1] Edited by Rodney Hall, published by University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, QLD.



Filed under Current social issues, Poetry turnstile

2 responses to “Prisons and poetry: Merry Christmas everybody, all the bodies.

  1. Those poems by Jack are beautiful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s