My Spirit Wonders WORDS FROM INSIDE

Home / / / My Spirit Wonders WORDS FROM INSIDE

spiritMy Spirit Wonders

WORDS FROM INSIDE – Mon esprit s’envole
ÉCRITS ENTRE QUATRE MURS – Various Authors and Artists
Edited by Allan Briesmaster and Michelle Poulin

English/French
Art/Poetry/Prose
ISBN 0-9689723-3-0
88 pages, B&W and Colour Plates
$18.95 Cdn
$14.95 US

An anthology of prize-winning poetry, prose, and artwork by inmates and parolees from Canada’s prisons.

Introduction

It was our good fortune to be invited by the Prison Arts Foundation and by Seraphim Editions to select these writings in French and English, along with reproductions of works of art, by inmates and parolees of Canada’s prisons. Taken together, this work is a varied and always artistically skillful and authentic expression of the creative spirit. In making our selection, we had the initial advantage of drawing from work whose merits had already been recognized in a series of contests run by the Foundation. Considerations of length and accurate imaging prevented a few fine pieces of writing, painting and graphics being included. However, thanks to the Foundation, and especially to Michelle Hill, we had a substantial body of strong, well-crafted material to choose from. This anthology reflects very loosely the demographics of the prison population. Some of the artists and writers are young offenders, others aboriginal Canadians and new Canadians. There are several women, and a sizeable segment is in French. The work comes from all regions of the country. The main consideration, though, was to ensure that the literary work, in particular, satisfies the age-old criteria of being a pleasure to read, instructive and enlightening. The life-situations of the creators lend an undeniable shading to our responses as readers, both in coming to the work in the first place, and in our reflections on it afterward. But whether or not one has had direct exposure to life in prison or encountered anybody who has been there, all the work in My Spirit Wonders has the ability to move, to entertain, and – often in sobering and cautionary ways – to expand awareness. It holds its own alongside comparable work coming “from outside.”

With the visual art, if there is one common keynote, it is that, by and large, it presents an intuitive symbolism. Whether an industrialized abstract of a state of mind, a swirling mandala-form, a still landscape, or a figure caught in disintegration, the images have insistent power and unusual beauty. The techniques and media range from computer-generation, fine draughtmanship with coloured pencils, and delicately modulated watercolours, to bold acrylics and oils. The choices of subject show inventiveness and originality, and the command of the media themselves is assured and versatile. Each image offers an individual, not generic, world-view: one still “in process,” be it a suffering face confronting us head-on, a man fused ambiguously with a wolf, or a serene heron at one with its habitat.

The short stories (with the notable exception of the “Tuh-Wheen” fable drawn from aboriginal sources), and a few pieces of creative non-fiction, convincingly mirror life before, during, and after prison. With compelling realism and psychological insight, the writers present conflicts and behaviours “from the inside,” that ring darkly true. Abuse of drugs and alcohol, low self-esteem, self-destructiveness, and the frequent threat of violence will hardly surprise readers, but the dramatizations here will grip them nonetheless. Story authors Rafferty, S.B., Tapley, and Ternowetsky all possess the gift of generating suspense and ominous atmospheres, taking us deep within troubled minds, and to the brink of doom. The authors of “My Reality” and “The Last Lost Soul” achieve equivalent, compact portrayals of derangement and near despair in the first person. There is plenty of grim directness from the poets too, counterbalanced overall by the poignant wistfulness of the first two poems, and by the various combinations of humour, fantasy, longing, and sarcasm elsewhere – including the half dozen poems at the close. From the latter set, we gain a sense of unconventional equilibrium wrought through a blend of tones, jaunty and adroit rhymes and rhythms, and striking turns of phrase.

To express oneself forcefully and coherently through art, in such a way as to convince others of the validity of one’s vision, is, even “under the Iron Tepee,” a far greater and more lasting victory than the bleak one claimed by the inmate Stevens in the story “Any Man’s Death.” While none of the writers and artists here has succumbed to a self-deceiving optimism any more than to trite sentimentality, the authentic rendering of their subjects stands, in each case, as a significant, life-affirming achievement in and of itself. Thus we are grateful for all their artistry, and believe that the many readers of this extraordinary anthology will be so as well.

Allan Briesmaster

Préambule

Nous sommes heureux d’avoir été invité par la Fondation des arts dans les prisons et par les Éditions Seraphim à sélectionner ces écrits et ces reproductions d’uvres d’art créés par des détenus des prisons canadiennes. Nous avons aussi eu le privilège de puiser parmi des uvres qui ont déjà été reconnues par la Fondation lors de différents concours. Nous désirons remercier la Fondation de nous avoir fourni une si vaste collection de matériel parmi laquelle choisir mais nous avons été malheureusement contraints d’omettre certaines pièces soumises, non pas pour leur manque d’inspiration ou d’imagination, mais plutôt pour la concision de ce recueil.

Cette anthologie reflète sans trop de rigueur la structure démographique de la population des prisons. Certains des artistes et auteurs sont des jeunes délinquants, des autochtones et des nouveaux canadiens. Les ouvres proviennent de tous les coins du pays. Néanmoins, le but principal de ce recueil, notamment en ce qui a trait aux ¦uvres littéraires, est de satisfaire, d’intéresser et de renseigner le lecteur. Qu’on ait vécu l’emprisonnement ou non, ou connu une personne incarcérée, Mon esprit s’envole sait impressionner, divertir et sensibiliser.

En ce qui a trait aux uvres d’art, chacune d’elles exploite différents médiums qui nous ouvrent vers un univers à la fois symbolique et spirituel. Elles dégagent une multitude de sensations et de passions tout en reflétant la sensibilité et la créativité de l’artiste. Une collection au langage coloré qui traite sur des thèmes variés d’une manière tout à fait personnelle. Les textes témoignent de la vie avant, pendant et après la prison. Dans ce monde clôt, les auteurs donnent libre cours à leur imagination, racontent des histoires personnelles, des tranches de vie et des expériences. On peut facilement se placer “entre quatre murs”. “Le Miroir” de l’auteur Dan Dagenais est un exemple parfait de l’intensité qu’un détenu peut ressentir vis à vis sa solitude. Parallèlement, l’auteur Gérald M. Désilus nous invite à goûter une lueur d’espoir et à trouver refuge dans “Le soleil de mon salut”. “Le sortilège de la vieille dame” de Conrad Vigneault est un conte émouvant et magique décrivant la vie d’un jeune homme qui, après avoir traîner le fardeau de ses erreurs toute sa vie, se libère enfin en venant à l’aide de son prochain.

Mon esprit s’envole est un voyage au cur de la cellule. Nous sommes reconnaissant envers les écrivains et les artistes qui nous permettent de jeter un coup d’il sur l’autre côté et nous sommes persuadés que les lecteurs de cette merveilleuse anthologie le seront aussi.

Michelle Poulin