5 The Prisoners by Stephen Spender

The Prisoners by Stephen Spender

Sue Butler’s choice number 5 .

I discovered this poem during my teenage angst years. I can’t remember why it appealed but I copied it out and still have it in the faded purple envelope file that was my teenage version of Poetry Keeps.

In my practice, through some unexpected and often dysfunctional connections, I developed an interest in men who are violent in the home. Some of the language in this poem was not congenial to me as an adult – the emphasis on pity for instance was not “on trend” in the 80s and 90s – but often the struggle to get these men help when they asked for it was so longwinded and ineffectual that compassion felt useless, pity and anger more truthful. The womb would indeed have been the place the change the future they moved into.

Brought up in the era of the stiff upper lip, when history was little considered as a reason for current behaviour the poetry of socialists such as Spender appealed during my fairly muted teenage rebellion and speaks to me still.

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