Elaine's Reviews > Plexiglass

Plexiglass by Margo Perin
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it was amazing

This is a breathtaking, heartbreaking book of poetry by Margo Perin.
While working at the ACLU for many years, I read numerous articles, reports and policy documents about the shame of U.S prisons. Yet nothing has made the prison experience more vivid or more gut wrenching than this slim volume. More than 2.3 women and men are behind bars in this country. Correction: some are behind plexiglass – a hard, transparent material that strips all those in cells of even a moment of privacy, like animal cages in a zoo.
Perin, who has taught creative writing in San Quentin and the San Francisco County Jail, melds her words and those of her imprisoned students. “Three-inch pencils and paper in hand/(one eraser each)/They (can) become the authors/of their own – cells.” Perin does not shy away from the raw language and rough lives of her students, sons and daughters of the streets, of poverty, of abuse and hunger. She lets us know they have been convicted of murder, rape, robbery, domestic violence and drug dealing. “We’re like pussycats in this class,” one writes, “ you should see what we do to each other in the dorms.”
Yet, she reminds us, “a pencil can be used/ as a laser beam/to illuminate the scars/of those thrashing/ about in the waters.”
The black-and-white photos interspersed throughout the poetry are blurry, both hiding the identity of individuals and reflecting Perin’s description of the prison as a “radiation chamber/rectangular funnels of light ricocheting/ off walls of concrete and steel/between/more concrete and steel.”
The classrooms hold those who are anxious to write but don’t know how to start, and those who refuse to write, and those whose writing soars, transporting them “to faraway lands/where I can dance with the trees/ and sleep by the moon.”
Poet Perin is also a novelist, an essayist and a teacher whose work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is also the contributing editor of Only the Dead Can Kill: Stories from Jail, a collection of work by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated writers.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 21, 2020 – Shelved

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