Poetry behind bars and in the streets

Poetry behind bars and in the streets

Poetry by inmates and poems pasted on Council trucks have put the art of verse at the forefront of this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Unlocked: Poets, Police and Prisoners is a free festival event this week showcasing the groundbreaking poetry workshops in correctional centres across NSW organised by The Red Room Company.

Run in collaboration with Corrective Services NSW, the Unlocked workshops give inmates the opportunity to work with award-winning poets on reading, writing, publishing and performing poetry, and to tell their stories – often for the first time.

At the festival event on Sunday 26 May, the professional poets will share their experiences of working on the Unlocked program, and their own poetry that emerged from it.

Video recordings of poems written and performed by inmates in the original workshops will screen before and after the event.

The Red Room Company’s general manager Olivia Wright said the not-for-profit organisation, creates, promotes and publishes poetry in ‘unusual ways’ and promotes young and emerging poets, especially those voices from regional and remote Australia.

“We’ve seen remarkable outcomes from Unlocked, not just with improved literacy, but with the inmates’ self-confidence and esteem as well,” Ms Wright said.

“At first when we go in the response is like, ‘you’re kidding, poetry?’ but then they suddenly realise that poetry is also about breaking rules: you don’t have to have punctuation, good spelling or correct grammar.

“For those inmates in particular whose literacy is really poor, they are taken by poetry as a communication tool, and what we get is these deeply personal stories they may never have been able to express before.

“I think there’s a real catharsis in having the tools available to say something that you may not have been able to say before.”

Recurring themes from the inmates’ poetry include addiction, love, life on the land, freedom, self-exploration, family and family breakdown.

The free event will be held from 3pm-4pm on Sunday 26 May at Philharmonia Studio, Pier 4/5, Walsh Bay, and is presented by Johanna Featherstone and The Red Room Company.

Speakers include Kenneth Slessor Prize-shortlisted poet Philip Hammial, inner-west Sydney MC/songwriter Solo, performance poet Gareth Jenkins and Gamilaroi wordsmith Lorna Munro.

The City of Sydney has supported The Red Room Company since 2006 through its grants and sponsorship program.

Unlocked: Poets, Police and Prisoners is one of more than 35 poetry-related events during this year’s festival.

Throughout the week-long festival, poetry will also be roaming the streets with an 11-strong fleet of City cleansing trucks decorated in poems, from ancient Greek epics to contemporary Australian verse.

Each truck features two giant poems, measuring more than two metres wide and one metre high, with a total of 19 poems appearing in the series.

The Sydney Writers’ Festival is one of the largest writers’ festivals in the world, attracting more than 80,000 attendances and featuring over 400 writers and authors each year.

The City has been a major sponsor of the event since its launch in the late 1990s, and in 2012 announced a significant funding boost for the 2013 and 2014 festivals, worth $330,000 each year.

The 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival runs from 20-26 May. For more information, visit: swf.org.au


For media inquiries or images, contact City of Sydney Senior Media Adviser Jodie Minus, phone 0467 803 815 or email jminus@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au