Black cover with white vertical stripes; and a circle 'cut out' with diagonal stripes, leaving a white hole. White banner at the top with author name in black lettering justified left and title in red lettering justified rightAngola, America, Sammy Weaver

Seren, 2022     £6.00

Form of imprisonment

This pamphlet tackles the challenging topic of a prisoner on death row in Angola, America. Its use of form is striking. Even the titles of the poems themselves are imprisoned in brackets. The initial poem, ‘[ origin story ]’, opens the pamphlet in a dramatic way:

with a flint blade / he incised
a dozen cruciforms in his own torso /

Several poems are written as sonnets, a suitable form for conveying containment. There are two sonnets with the same title ‘[ exhibit : electric chair ]’. Such chairs, to my mind, represent final restraint. In the second of these sonnets, there is a description of a chair:    

She still holds the grain of the tree
that made her. And the name they gave her,
Gruesome Gertie, sitting there in the museum

‘[ nest / fence ]’, another sonnet, cleverly plays on The Lord’s Prayer:

our father, from heaven looking down
the maximum security complex looks like
a cluster of chunky crosses, a flock of cherubs

Prayer also features in ‘[ ode to handcuffs ]’, written in couplets, which has inventive images and a great use of the letter ‘o’ throughout the poem:

     / O obtuse lover you draw
the palms together like prayer / O mother

of thumbcuffs / cousin of hogtie, your form
could be confused with an hourglass

‘[ anti-ode to angola rodeo ]’ describes the annual prison rodeo where the prisoners have a short-lived moment of freedom:

Men dressed as miniature zebras bolt from
their cages into the dust bowl of the prison
coliseum, into the ritual of cowboy and steer.

At the end they will be ‘broken-boned & returned to their cages’.

This pamphlet is extraordinary and a deserved winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition in 2021.

Sue Wallace-Shaddad