Poetry Corner: Dasan Ahanu, 'Pens'

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Poet and spoken word artist Dasan Ahanu reads his poem "Pens," about life in America's prisons. Ahanu teaches at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in Durham, N.C..

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.

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'Pens'

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

Is promise at the end of realization

But if you never realize your potential

Then promise is just a passing possibility

But thieves rob temples of prose

And push pen princes to cry tears of purple rain

As their Morris days pass with time

They call my cries alliterate

As promise rots in systems oppressing pens

And you can say you know why the caged bird sings

But I know why the caged bird cries

Until the ink runs dry

And our souls are stained in shame

And we watch it as newborns are slated for a cell and a number

Not a pencil and a journal

Like pre-ordered burial plots

And it's only a matter of time

It's been 28 days and I can see the living dead

Infected with a resident evil

They are snatching our leaders and locking them away

Hung by their larynx

And chained and shackled at the mind

Now every fall we wonder why the rain falls longer now

Tears fall stronger now

Sentences run longer now

We walk 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

As poems only get read at visiting hours

Some are eventually sent on work release

Just look how they work

As young pens wear prison gear, tattoo prison tears

And live imprisoned lives outside of prison walls

That only makes the transition easier

Promise rots inside systems oppressing pens

And OZ remains one of our favorite TV shows

As though we forgot the wizard was a lie

And they had what they needed all along

But the wicked witch of the east signs acts

That wage war on pens

But didn't get crushed when the towers fell

No we are not in Kansas anymore

But in a facility called correctional

But white out just covers, it doesn't erase

As poems sit in cells like pages of a chapbook

Only to be read at visiting hours

As their sentences run on

People want to look and call them inmates

I say look where most of our poets have gone

Copyright 2005 Dasan Ahanu. All Rights Reserved.

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