Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make

-Brian Mendonça

Spaces of confinement, have often brought out the best in people. Where would you get so much time to yourself, anyway? You could flesh out that manuscript you always wanted to. Or you could actually write letters to your friends.

Holed up in hospital, what can you do? For starters you could read. I used to read passages from the Bible when mum was in hospital. Proverbs were her favourite – and mine too. Amazing how time would fly. 

I am watching Calvin and the Chipmunks at the part he says, 'You got me fired.' Confined in his house the song-writer (which is his true calling) now has much more time to devote to what he most wants to do.

Recently I had the opportunity to see the work of someone on parole. When he was asked whether he would have turned to poetry and painting if he was not in the circumstances he was in, he said, ‘No. Who has time for poetry!?’

Sometimes life gives you that time. You just need to recognize it. When I was out of a job in Delhi, for a while I felt confined, bottled and useless. Then Queenie and me brought out my second book of poems A Peace of India: Poems in Transit. Given my otherwise frenetic schedule on a normal working day would I have done it if life did not give me a break?

There’s this person who is handicapped and confined to bed. But he figured he could do something to touch someone’s life. So he wrote chits of paper with inspiring messages and tossed them out of the window. One thing led to another and now it has a global avatar in

Antonio Gramsci wrote his best work in prison in what is now known as Prison Notebooks.  Anne Frank penned The Diary of Anne Frank in hiding. Many prisoners wrote their most inspiring works in prison. In fact there is a whole genre called prison literature. Gandhi wrote his autobiography – My Experiments with Truth -- in Yerwada jail.

A TED talks video by poet Cristina Domenech given in Buenos Aires, Argentina throws light on how poetry can liberate people in confined spaces. Invited to conduct a writing workshop in prison by the University of San Martin, she dwelt on how poetry is firstly silence – the art of the unsaid. She goes on to say, ‘We plunged into the seventh circle; they learned that they could make the walls invisible, that they could make the windows yell, and that we could hide inside the shadows.’ Quoting poet Nicolas Dorado  she says, ‘I will need an infinite thread to sew up this huge wound.’*

Richard Lovelace’s poem written in Westminister’s Gatehouse prison is apt here:
Stone walls do not a prison make
Nor iron bars a cage
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage.
-‘To Althea, from Prison’ (1642)
*Domenech, Cristina. ‘Poetry that frees the soul.’ Ted Talks 2014. 12 min. (Spanish with English subtitles). Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 2 October 2016. Image untraced. From https://advocacyautismspecialneeds(dot)

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