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Prisoners Read Poetry

December 13, 1987

Concerning the controversy surrounding poetry, I'd like to add a bit of information I received from a county librarian. The county maintains small libraries within many local correctional facilities. A county librarian, who had conducted some research to find out which books the inmates checked out most frequently, told me that, in order of preference, convicts like to read books of poetry, books on calligraphy, and the novels of Louis L'Amour. When I asked how she might account for this, she guessed--and it was only a guess--that perhaps inmates chose books of poetry as their first preference in reading because poems are able to express certain emotions that they themselves feel, and, wishing to express these emotions to a loved one, they might even quote lines during visits or in letters. (As for calligraphy and Louis L'Amour, the speculation was that calligraphy might tie in to self-expression or even street graffiti, and that Louis L'Amour was simply a wonderful storyteller, offering something like romances for men.) The point is, can it be possible that we are living at a time when convicts appreciate poetry more than the general reading public?

JUDITH FREEMAN

Los Angeles

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