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Poetry Corner: Dasan Ahanu, 'Pens'

ED GORDON, host:

Earlier in the show, we talked about the growing number of men and women in America's prisons. Some are released after decades in jail when new evidence overturns their convictions, but for the innocent and the guilty, incarceration is often painful. Poet Dasan Ahanu dedicates this poem to those living behind bars.

Mr. DASAN AHANU (Poet): The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was promised at the end of realization, but if you never realize your potential, then promise is just a passing possibility as thieves rob temples of prose pushing pen princes to cries tears of purple rain.

As my morass days pass with time, people call my cries illiterate. As promise rots since our system oppressing pens, people put it off as passing fancy. My passion for putting pen to paper makes me a possible poem or a victim in this predatory practice when alliteration isn't a poetic device but a device of power mongerers who repeat the same cycle with the same young faces and you can tell me why the caged bird sings but I can tell you why the caged bird cries until the tears run dry and our souls are stained in shame and we watch it as newborns are slated for cell and a number, not a pen and a journal like pre-ordered burial plots. It's only a matter of time.

It's been 28 days and I can see the living dead infected with the resident evil. Our leaders are being picked up and locked away, hung by their larynx, chained and shackled at the mind and every fall we wonder why the rain falls longer now, our tears fall stronger now, why sentences run longer now. Most are blind to the fact but some know as fiends tap veins to inject black ink back into their pens so they can write their pain away and poems are stuck in cells only to be read at visiting hours with no deejay, just a CO and they're label isn't Def Jam. It's habitual felon. And some are set on work release but see how they work as young pen wear prison gear, tattoo prison tears or live imprisoned lives outside of prison walls and that only makes the transition easier.

As promise rots inside systems oppressing pens, "Oz" is still one of our favorite TV shows but we seem to forget that the wizard was a lie and they had what they needed all along and the Wicked Witch of the East drafts acts that wages war on pens and wasn't crushed when the towers fell. We're not in Kansas anymore but in a facility they call correctional. The whiteout just covers it, doesn't erase, and poems are stuck in cells like pages of a chat book only to be read at visiting hours and sentences just run on and we tend to look at these people and call them inmates. I just say, `Look and see where most of our poets have gone.'

I wrote the poem "Pens" because I was concerned about the state of prisons and the number of young people who seem to be going in and out of the penal system. And I'll use the aspect of locking away poets to make people realize that these are important people that are finding themselves on the wrong side of the system.

GORDON: That was "Pens" by poet and spoken word artist Dasan Ahanu. He also teaches at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.