“No Beauty in Cell Bars”

Spoon
Fury Young's "No Hope Bars"  mirror on glass with plexi
Fury Young’s “No Beauty/Beauty in Cell Bars” mirror on glass with plexi

Words by: Ronit Pinto

Long time artist Fury Young met Spoon Jackson while researching prison arts programs for his upcoming project, “Die Jim Crow.”  Spoon was sentenced to life without parole in 1978 when he fatally stabbed a man during a fight. He was 19 years old.

Spoon has served time at half a dozen state prisons. It was during his time at San Quentin, where he found his voice as a poet after enrolling in a four-year poetry workshop run by teacher and writer Judith Tannenbaum.

Since then Spoon has achieved many accomplishments and accolades and has discovered himself in other arts including:

  • Gained international attention as Pozzo in the 1988 production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”
  • Authored plays, poetry, novels, fairy tales, short stories, essays, and memoir, which have been internationally published
  • Has won four awards from PEN American Center Prison Writing Program
  • He started the “Peace Gang” with a group of friends in Sweden designed to spread and share his poetry
  • Was featured in Michel Wenzer’s award-winning documentary “At Night I Fly: Images from New Folsom Prison” who took the title from one of Spoon’s poems.

It was Spoon’s work that attracted Fury, prompting him to reach out to and collaborate with Spoon on his upcoming album, “Die Jim Crow.”

Spoon
Spoon

“Die Jim Crow,” is a concept album covering songs written by formerly and currently incarcerated black men and women from across the United States.  The album comes as a response to the book “The New Jim Crow”, written by Michelle Alexander, which makes the case that prison is a “modern day racial caste system” in which African American men are often unjustly imprisoned or kept in prison a ridiculously long time. While Alexander states that the targeting of black men through the War on Drugs allows the U.S. criminal justice system to function as a contemporary system of racial control, Fury’s artists are in prison for various reasons and will express their perspectives and experiences on the “New Jim Crow.”

“Though I didn’t immediately fall in love with Spoon’s poetry,” Fury said, something did stand out. “In this fast-moving world that we live in one must really digest a poem to truly get it… (His words) went to places far beyond the prison walls, but then he could capture his prison experience so deeply. He was laconic – he did not waste words. Ah, a true poet.”

After reading “By Heart: Prison, Poetry, and Two Lives”, a dual memoir Spoon co-wrote with Tannenbaum, Fury solidified his inclination to correspond and collaborate with Spoon for his album.  After getting the green light from Judith he wrote his first letter, and the two have been in close contact since.  In addition to the music, Spoon has also inspired Young’s art piece, “No Hope Bars.”

“When ‘Die Jim Crow’ is complete,” Fury said, “I know that Spoon’s deep-diving poetic words and vocals will add a whole other layer of ‘realness’ (to borrow a term from a friend) to this music project.”

We’ve decided to publish Spoon’s poems, as well as  Fury’s inspired work, along with a mini Q&A with Spoon for Honeysuckle.

Fury: What is your background as a poet?

Spoon Jackson: I found out on my journey that I was a poet in 1986 after signing on for two poetry classes. I had no idea what poetry was and had only read about it because of my journey to study philosophy and psychology. Anyway my first poem was No Beauty in Cell Bars and it has been getting published almost each year since the late 80s. After I unfolded as a poet, other areas of the art world opened up to me. Poetry was my journey into myself, into the world, other people, and the universe, and I feel blessed to bring words alive and have a purpose in life.

Fury: How has your perception changed since writing these two poems?

Spoon Jackson: My perception has deepened, and life being always in a state of change and growth — things change and people grow — I’ve grown and expanded into other arts.  I remember my second mom from Sweden said “Beauty in Cell Cars” has all of life expressed in it. An ex-girlfriend of mine said “No Beauty in Cell Bars” encompassed all of life’s nuances. These two poems have traveled to Sweden, Norway, India, Canada, Germany, France, and Russia, and have been translated a few times. The two poems seem not to get old like my heart, spirit and love — my dreams.

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Note: Spoon has no access to internet, but if you feel inclined, write him here:

Spoon Jackson
B-92377 CSP – LAC
A5-141, P.O. Box 4430
Lancaster, CA 93539-4430 USA

His other writings can be found at www.realnessnetwork.blogspot.com
A site that is frequently kept up by his Swedish friends.
Disclaimer: His writings will pull at the heart strings.

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“NO BEAUTY IN CELL BARS”
Restless, unable to sleep
Keys, bars, guns being racked
Year after year
Endless echoes
Of steel kissing steel
Noise
Constant yelling
Nothing said
Vegetating faces, lost faces
Dusted faces
A lifer
A dreamer
Tomorrow’s a dream
Yesterday’s a memory
Both a passing of a cloudHow I long
For the silence of a raindrop
Falling gently to earth
The magnificence of a rose
Blooming into its many hues
Of color
The brilliance of a rainbow
When it sweetly lights up the sky
After a pounding rainfall
Picnics in a rich green meadow
We saw the beauty in butterflies
We made it our symbol
Tiny grains of sand
One hour glass
A tear that may engender
A waterfallThe memories
The dreams
Are now
Love is now
There’s no beauty in cell bars.
— San Quentin, 1986

“BEAUTY IN CELL BARS”

We lock ourselves up
not because of the bars and
steel that surround us
not because life doesn’t bend
to our every whim
But because of the projections
we place onto our worlds
The judgments, the I cant’s
The trying to please everyone
while not pleasing ourselves
By seeking the beauty on the outside
that is surely within
For prisons are created internally
and are found everywhere
We allow unnatural and unreal thoughts
to be our walls, our limits
Because of the dam we build to
stop the universal love, the light
lt’s all within ourselves
this paradise you go to of beauty
and love
There’s peace, where along with the
eagle you may soar
A place inside that was inspired
from the inner and above
which are one and the same
The world may not bend to
your every whim
But it will flow wherever you
want it to go,
where it’s supposed to go
There’s beauty in cell bars.
—San Quentin, 1987
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