September 2018 Reading Group Round

Featured in Inside Time in September 2018

The report this month comes from HMP Wymott where a member of the reading group spearheaded a project to get more prisoners switched on to poetry. The result was the brilliant ‘Poems in the Garden’.

About two years ago a prisoner at HMP Wymott had an idea. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice’, he thought as he walked around on exercise, ‘to have poems scattered amongst the plants and flowers?’ It was one of those daft, inconsequential thoughts that come and go, like the thousands we have every day. Just an idea.

But it wouldn’t leave him alone. The more he thought about it, the less daft it seemed. Wymott has beautiful grounds which are tended by a hard-working team of prisoners and staff. Each year they enter a national garden competition, the Windlesham Trophy, where competition is fierce. Any unique feature would be bound to give them an extra edge….wouldn’t it?

So our prisoner put his idea to the powers that be. And guess what? They didn’t think it was stupid. In fact, they thought it was a great idea and ‘Poems in the Garden’ was born. Lads were put to work designing and making wooden plinths to hold poems that would be scattered like seeds throughout the grounds. A competition was organised amongst prisoners to write poems on a gardening theme. The response was fantastic. All of a sudden various departments throughout the prison were working together to bring the project to life. A few short months later anybody walking round the prison might encounter a random poem planted in the ground, as like as not actually written by a resident of the prison.

The beauty of the project is that the poems can be changed with the seasons and even reflect events happening in the wider world. This summer we ran a World Cup 2018 poetry competition. The Governor gave it his enthusiastic seal of approval and organisers ran a prize draw for each entrant to encourage participation. Various departments within the prison showed their generosity with donations of chocolates, cakes and other goodies and cash prizes were sanctioned. All kinds of organisations and prison partners were contacted for books etc. as prizes. Prison Reading Groups (PRG) were especially generous, donating a number of copies of the excellent Forward Prize poetry anthology and funding for further prize poetry books to be chosen by the library staff at Wymott. The competition spawned a wide variety of football related poems, many of which are now displayed throughout the prison. Here is just one example:

World Cup Fever by Jonathan A.

Another chapter to be writ of England’s World Cup story, 
I hear the roar of English fans and dreams of goals and glory, 
Once more I think of sixty-six, once more I’m a believer, 
Once more the English lion roars, they call it World Cup fever.

Much like England’s valiant attempt to bring football home, Wymott did not actually win the Windlesham Trophy in 2017. However, what it did gain was a unique feature in its grounds that can be enjoyed by everyone: staff, prisoners and visitors alike. It also reaped the benefits of genuine collaboration between prisoners and the prison. And this prisoner who had that daft idea on an ordinary day over two years ago realises, that sometimes, with hard work, commitment and patience, an idle thought can blossom into something rather beautiful.

With special thanks to PRG and the Forward Arts Foundation.

View all posts