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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Richards’

The 17th century Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace wrote in “To Althea from Prison,”

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

I am not going to make the case that inmates at New York’s Rikers Island prison have “minds innocent and quiet,” but I will contend that poetry can help to free the soul.

Kirk Semple at the NY Times has a story about a poetry reading in the prison.

“The inmates at Rikers Island were slumped in plastic chairs, their expressions suggesting boredom and doubt. They had been pried from their favorite television shows to attend — of all things — a poetry reading. Some nice people from the public library, they were told.

“Then came the poet: unshaven, in his early 20s, dark hooded sweatshirt, dark T-shirt, dark ball cap slung backward on his head. Some men leaned forward, elbows on their knees. Expressions shifted to curiosity: This was not what they were expecting.

“ ‘I’m going to kick a couple of poems,’ the poet, Miles Hodges, said in a drawl of the street, before unleashing a blizzard of words titled ‘Harlem.’ His intonation percussive and incantatory, he spoke of race and of children playing amid ‘roached blunts and roached joints’ that were ‘scattered around the purple-, pink- and black-chalked R.I.P. signs as if whispering from the concrete jungle, “I’m resting in peace and high.” ’

“Mr. Hodges, 25, is a spoken-word performer and a somewhat unusual ambassador of the New York Public Library, where he was hired this year to help create programs to attract members of the millennial generation.

“For the past couple of months, he has been developing a spoken-word program at Rikers, where the library has for years offered a variety of services, including a book-lending system.

“ ‘I really wanted to include this other section of New York City that often doesn’t get discussed as part of the city,’ Mr. Hodges said in an interview. ‘You’ll hear me say a lot: They can lock your body up, but they can’t cage your mind.’ “

Asakiyume volunteers in a prison where she helps women with writing. Bet they would get a kick out of a poetry reading like that.

More at the NY Times, here.

Photo: Richard Perry/The New York Times
Miles Hodges, in cap, performing at Rikers Island.  

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First Parish does not have a typical service on New Year’s Day. For one thing, attendance is sparse.

Sunday’s “Taizé” service put me in mind of something my mother used to say about Unitarians to tease my father, who was one. (The denomination was not yet Unitarian-Universalist.) She liked to say that her impression of Unitarians had always been “seven people in an attic with a violin.”

Parishioner Joan Esch and her cello provided the opening music yesterday. Instead of going into the main sanctuary, we gathered in the parish hall, sitting on folding chairs around a small table with candles and flowers. At most there were 40 people, including toddlers running and climbing.

Mark Richards led the Taizé service, explaining that the concept started in France. The First Parish version is short and consists of one-verse songs sung over and over in unison without accompaniment and interspersed with readings, cello interludes, meditation, and candle lighting — for remembrance (such as an illness or death) and hope (such as a new beginning or a birth).

I enjoyed being there. It was different. And I liked a line that was quoted from a long-ago minister — something about the mystery within reaching for the mystery without.

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