September 2020: Inside Time

From the September issue of Inside Time, available here.

We are always impressed by the ingenuity of the volunteers and librarians who run our groups. Some have figured out how to keep a virtual reading group going at this time. Here are some highlights from the two groups at HMP Warren Hill, who have been persevering through lockdown.

First up was Matt Haig’s The Humans, a comic look at earth and everything human from love to peanut butter as observed by an alien.“This was our first attempt at a ‘virtual’ book group, using a templated set of discussion questions and asking for a one or two line response to each question from members. The facilitator then collated the responses into a form of ‘discussion’. This has been returned to all members for them to share and enjoy. 

It was interesting to see how the written responses allow for more time to reflect and assess content and language in the feedback, as opposed to the immediacy of the contributions in face-to-face group meetings.  

Feedback was generally positive, except from L who, unusually, failed to engage with the book or even complete it. He explained that perhaps the heightened emotions of the Covid crisis left no space for a humorous, slapstick opening to an alien story… 

All members commented on the clever way that observing the world through humour and alien eyes allowed some of the most endearing (and irritating) of human qualities to shine through. And of course, how love can conquer all – even an alien threat! 

The contrast between an alien world of mathematics, logic and rationality and human ‘messiness’ (as S put it so eloquently) made for some of the most interesting feedback. Unfortunately, not everyone was optimistic that the human race could be tolerant or adaptable enough to co-exist with an alien species…”

The group’s next book choice was something very different; The Poetry Pharmacy Returns by William Sieghart. It’s a collection of short poems for all kinds of spiritual needs and ailments, from loneliness and heartbreak to feelings of failure and loss of hope.

Feedback was almost universally positive, with everyone finding their own favourite poem(s). With the exception of S (who prefers to focus on their own interpretation) everyone also found the author/editor’s notes useful for gaining further insight into the collection.

A in particular felt the healing power of poetry during the early weeks of the COVID lockdown, calling it a ‘stress reliever… that calms the soul’. Another member brought up the idea that it is ‘better to know you are not alone in what you are feeling.’

‘I liked the idea of different poems being suitable for different moods and emotions, and of selecting just one or two appropriate poems at a time.’

Which poems in particular stood out or affected you emotionally and why? 

‘‘I Am My Ancestors’ Dream’ inspired me personally. As did ‘Don’t Hesitate’ and ‘Life’s Disaster Manual’. I liked them for their sentiments and the way they are written.’

Sieghart describes poetry as “a healing force” – would you agree?

‘Yes, I would agree. Because if what the poet has expressed chimes with the reader then they are both united, which always makes one feel better to know you are not alone in what you are feeling’

What did you most like (or dislike) about the book?

‘I liked the idea of different poems being suitable for different moods and emotions, and of selecting just one or two appropriate poems at a time.’

Altogether a powerful and enriching collection that offers a unique way of accessing poems for every emotion…”

PRG is very keen to support more of our reading groups to run remotely until they can resume safely. We know how much time and work is involved in this and are developing more resources which we hope will make things easier for some groups.

If your prison doesn’t have a reading group, encourage your librarian to have a look at  and email if they would like to receive updates and resources from us.

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