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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA professor helps inmates find their voices

    “”I have clothes in the closet, therefore I exist,”” writes UA

    English professor Richard Shelton in his recently published collection of poetry, “”The Last Person to Hear Your Voice.”” This, among other off-the-wall wisdoms, characterizes his clever and often surreal wit.

    “”It’s much easier to write humor in prose, and in this collection I’m hopefully finding a way to use humor in poetry too,”” Shelton said.

    This humor is successful in making the collection engaging and easy to read, appealing to a wider audience that includes non-poets of the general public.

    “”It’s a cynical sort of humor that comes with age,”” Shelton said.

    Shelton named a part of his poem “”Golden Jubilee”” as a good example of his signature humor.

    “”It’s a carpenter and fishermen in a boat, but the boat is full, so someone is going to have to get out and walk,”” Shelton said, laughing. A take on Jesus walking on water, the poem flips the miracle to an absurd solution to a nautical problem.

    The poems in “”The Last Person to Hear Your Voice”” push the stereotypes of poetry from the reader’s head. Shelton’s poems sometimes take on the form of a staged play and sometimes that of an interview.

    One poem, “”Therapy Session,”” reads as a madly comic series of questions and answers between a patient and psychiatrist about the patient’s childhood on a farm and first sexual experience with a milking machine. “”People often don’t talk to one another,”” Shelton said. “”They talk past one another.”” This is what he draws on in his interview-style poems. This also gives him a chance to experiment with changing voices and tones without one poem.

    Shelton is working on his next book, “”Crossing the Yard: 30 Years as a Prison Volunteer,”” which will be published this fall. The non-fiction book will chronicle Shelton’s experience teaching creative writing classes in an Arizona state prison. The book is controversial because of the prison content, so he must meet with lawyers while preparing the book for publication.

    “”They are serious criminals, but I’m not in danger,”” Shelton said. “”They know I am a volunteer, providing a service they are happy to have.””

    Shelton leads the workshops that teach inmates the crafts of poetry, non-fiction and fiction writing. These workshops are so successful that many inmates have been published and received prestigious awards. “”I’ve lost track of how many have been published,”” Shelton said.

    Writing provides the inmates with a way to get rehabilitated, he said. “”As soon as they get published, their whole lives change,”” Shelton said. He said that though some inmates write about prison life, they do not write about crime. Some of the work written by inmates is published in the “”Walking Rain Review,”” available for free at the Poetry Center.

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