By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives


This two-person memoir delves deeply into art, education, prison, possibility, and which children our world nurtures and which it shuns.

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By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives

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This two-person memoir delves deeply into art, education, prison, possibility, and which children our world nurtures and which it shuns.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for By Heart

"Like all good books, By Heart disrupts our assumptions, causes us to question our preconceptions, and reminds us of a commonly held humanity that is always the subject of Art, the engine of Love and should be the only authority of Justice."
- LJ Moore, The Examiner

"When two poets write a memoir, it has a vividness, substantiality and eloquence that set it apart. Unlike many contemporary memoirs which focus on a capital P Problem, "By Heart" includes the authors' suffering without trying to market it or glamorize it. Much of "By Heart" is about the way that writers become writers. Although their backgrounds and life circumstances are immensely different, both Judith and Spoon are observant, solitary, attentive to nature and its lack."
- Ruth Gendler, Head Butler

"By Heart is a moving encounter between freedom and prison, art, beauty and desolation, silence and voice ... It is passionate and tender, raw and realistic ... It is a love story but not love between people; it is about love for ourselves and our humanity. This is a book that I would wish for every educator to read."
- The Book Nook

"There's a crooked symmetry in this remarkable book: poetry and teaching rescued Tannenbaum, and prison provided her with the lifeline of a writing community; poetry also awakened Jackson, but for him it was a counterforce to prison's destructive power."
- Bell Gale Chevigny, emerita professor of literature at the College of Purchase, State University of New York, former chair of the PEN Prison Writing Program

"A boy with no one to listen becomes a man in prison for life and discovers his mind can be free. A woman enters prison to teach and becomes his first listener. And so begins a twenty-five year friendship between two gifted writers and poets. The result is By Heart — a book that will anger you, give you hope, and break your heart."
- Gloria Steinem

"A remarkable memoir of two powerful personalities brought together through poetry and prison. Through Judith's genuineness a poet awoke and found a way to live a fuller life in spite of confinement, and through Spoon's honesty and talent many people will be compelled to contribute to society, even if society has abandoned them."
- Joseph Lea, Library Media Specialist, York Correctional Institution, Niantic, CT

"In their remarkable memoir, Spoon Jackson and Judith Tannenbaum show us how words change lives, how poetry invites you to free your mind, even in a maximum security prison. By Heart is their profoundly inspirational story, an engaging and enlightening examination of two people thrown together in a dark place and how both journey through darkness and into the light."
- Ken Lamberton, author of Wilderness and Razor Wire: A Naturalist's Observations from Prison and other books

"By Heart is... a fascinating glimpse into a world that is mostly forgotten by those outside of it."
- Booksexy Review

VOYA - Rayna Patton
By Heart details two lives transformed by a shared experience, two memoirs in alternate chapters. Judith Tannenbaum and Spoon Jackson come from very different backgrounds: she, the daughter of a college professor, and he, one of fifteen children in a poor black family. In the 1980s, Tannenbaum started teaching poetry in San Quentin prison. Jackson was taking classes and reading widely, but living in self-imposed silence. Tannenbaum's poetry class was revelatory for him, for poetry gave him a way to express his evolving thoughts. In these parallel memoirs, Jackson is open and affecting. He recalls a boy growing up in a world of violence, killing a man when he was twenty and sentenced to life-without-parole. In prison, he began to grow into a very different person. His talent as a poet has brought him considerable recognition, but he is still incarcerated at New Folsom maximum-security prison. Tannenbaum is more guarded about her life, her loves, and her family. Post—San Quentin, she found a focus: writers' workshops, and she has written another book about her earlier experiences at San Quentin. The Shawshank Redemption movie was based on the idea that personal rehabilitation is possible—here, we have real-life evidence. But despite its undoubted power, it is hard to know where this book will find an audience in high schools. At best, students will learn more about our enormous prison system, and the "realness" of prisoners like Spoon Jackson, who struggle to find beauty and meaning in their lives. Reviewer: Rayna Patton
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780981559353
  • Publisher: New Village Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2010
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 806,168
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Tannenbaum is a respected poet, writer, educator and lecturer, who has taught poetry in California public schools, state universities, and prisons throughout the nation. She is the prolific author of memoirs, volumes of poetry, and edited anthologies, as well as seminal guidebooks, including the Manual For Artists Working In Prison. She has coordinated training at WritersCorps since 1994.

Spoon Jackson is a published poet and essayist serving a Life without Possibility of Parole sentence since 1977. His writing has received awards from the William James Association's Prison Arts Project and from PEN American Center's Prison Writing Program. His poetry is known internationally, especially in Sweden. He facilitates two creative writing classes for prisoners at California State Prison, Sacramento.

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Table of Contents

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xvii

1 This Near-Stranger's Words 1

2 In Silence 9

3 Mirrors 19

4 Nowhere but Barstow and Prison 31

5 By Heart 43

6 Diving 57

7 Artistic Imperialism 67

8 The Poet 79

9 Way Out in the Bay 87

10 Godot 99

11 Cure for Cancer 117

12 Banished 129

13 Write Reckless 139

14 Annotation 151

15 Power or Prison 167

16 The Circle 181

Resources 193

About the Authors 197

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