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Disguised As A Poem: My Years Teaching Poetry at San Quentin Paperback – September 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Northeastern (September 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155553452X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555534523
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #497,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In the spring of 1985, Tannenbaum was invited to recite her poems at San Quentin, California's infamous maximum-security prison. Afterward, she was invited to teach a creative writing course in poetry. Tannenbaum taught for one year on a once-a-week basis and was a poet-in-residence for the following three years. This book is designed to tell readers what the author learned in her four years of teaching inmates. She spent her first years working to earn their trust, occasionally stepping into minefields and overstepping boundaries imposed by the prison to protect her. Through her experience, she learned to protect the inmates' privacy at all costs, and therein lies the problem with this book. Tannenbaum tells the reader that one inmate stalked her and another became a soulmate, yet the details are unconvincing. The problem is that she seems to care too much about her students to reveal their stories, and without revealing their stories she remains unable to tell her own.APam Kingsbury, Alabama Humanities Foundation, Florence
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Tannenbaum, a poet, teacher, and passionate community art advocate, shares her frank and moving recollections of teaching poetry at San Quentin prison during the 1980s. As she chronicles her demanding routines and indelible revelations in this realm of caged bodies and blazing souls, she articulates her belief that creativity is our birthright, no matter where we reside, and describes the liberating power of poetry as experienced by her students, men who have committed crimes but who write poems of heart-jolting beauty and insight. While Tannenbaum taught her smart, talented, and sensitive students what she knew about writing, they taught her more than she "could ever have imagined about what it is to be human." In a cruel and myopic time in which unlimited funds are allocated for building prisons while schools and the arts go begging, Tannenbaum reminds readers not only that men and women behind bars are human, and therefore deserving of our respect and compassion, but that they have much to tell us about our propensity for both barbarism and beauty. --Donna Seaman Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Judith Tannenbaum has taught poetry in a wide variety of settings from primary school classrooms to maximum security prisons. She has chaired panels and served as keynote speaker at many conferences on prison, prison arts, and teaching arts, and taught in prisons in eight states. Judith currently serves as training coordinator for WritersCorps in San Francisco. You can read more about prison arts and teaching arts at her website. http://www.judithtannenbaum.com

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jay Stevens on October 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
In "Disguised as a Poem," Judith Tannenbaum narrates her experience teaching poetry for four years in the maximum-security prison, San Quentin. The prisoners she taught are fiercely human, use poetry as a shout: "I am here!" Tannenbaum comes to San Quentin with California 60s-radical ideas of universal brotherhood, and is forced to confront not only the prisoners' ambiguous past, but also the humanity of the police guards she has always associated with authority and oppression.
Needless to say, the experience changed more than a few lives.
Most of the men found themselves in San Quentin for their involvement in violent crime. During "lockup," in their cells, the men must restrain their emotions, their dreams, their expression of humanity for fear of exposing weakness in the violent environment in which they live. Poetry offers the men a chance to reach out beyond the walls of San Quentin. Through Tannenbaum and the other arts' teachers, the men meet Nobel Prize winners, perform "Waiting for Godot" under the auspices of Beckett himself, and publish their poems for children at risk.
Tannenbaum must struggle with the men's past actions while reveling in providing an outlet for the men using an art form she adores. She also finds herself in some moments allying herself with the prison administration, with authority, against the prisoners who are dependant on her for emotional release and artistic expression.
The book shines when relating the poetry of the men, when we witness the blossoming of a caged man on paper. It is then that we connect to these men from our own ambiguous cages-no doubt less confining than iron and steel-and take heart from their actions that we, too, can still soar free.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca K. Gojkovich on October 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is great. Ms. Tannenbaum successfully takes the reader beyond the archaic mindset that society still holds of that of a "criminal" and exposes the "human being" that exists within. Giving a voice to those that society has deemed not worthy to be heard.
And what worthy voices they are! You really must read this book! It was truly a great experience for me. Serving to remind this reader of that age-old question posed by Hillel, "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? If I am only for myself, then what am I? If not now, when?"
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By MTaylor on April 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book was introduced to me by Judith herself ( I was looking for material for a research paper ) ...Since I am a "starving" student, my mom bought me the book for x-mas, it sat for a few months since I was burnt out on prisons after my major report was done. But two days ago I picked up the book again, and I could no put it down. I have fallen in love with Spoon, Elmo and Judith's words many times over. I am in awe of her writing and her experience. I would hope that someday I could inspire others as she has inspired me. I have written a poem, I will share it with you all in hopes that you will buy this book...
"I feel as though I am reading a novel...
Everyonce in a while I stop and
remind myself the words I have read
are real."
Molly R>
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is an exceptional account, movingly honest and beautifully written. As someone who has also taught in prison, I can attest to the fact that the author has gotten it "right" - the cultural logic by which inmates understand and navigate their world; the ways in which relationships are built and tested; the circulating currency of ideas in prison. And she is one of the very few who have gone inside, empowering inmates to acquire the powerful tools to express their truths. It is a political act of the most genuine, humanistic kind. Bravo!
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