Free verse

A double memoir by two writers—one a convicted felon imprisoned in the California prison system and the other a poet and teacher—offers some hope for the redeeming power of art. The dialogue between Judith Tannenbaum and Spoon Jackson, By Heart: Poetry, Prison and Two Lives, is about how they came to be in the poetry workshops at San Quentin State Prison, where Jackson initially arranged a circle of empty chairs around himself and refused to talk. Eventually, they became colleagues and friends, a relationship that continued after Jackson was moved to Folsom. These are not parallel lives in any traditional sense, but the power of language to transform weaves a common thread throughout, making two very different people into collaborating writers. Jackson, who is serving a life sentence, is now teaching writing classes in New Folsom Prison; it’s a long way from his silent barricade in that first workshop.