For the first time ever, the monthly Woosh Kinaadeiyí Poetry Slam in Juneau was held on the University of Alaska Southeast Auke Lake campus as part of the Sound and Motion Spring Arts Series. Eminent poet-MCs were UAS Art student Kate Laster, Class of ’13 and alumni Jacque Boucher, Class of ’12 and Outstanding Graduate in Humanities.
The slam winner was Nathan Block, a talented Iraq war veteran recently paroled from Lemon Creek Correctional Center who participated in the Fall 2012 “UAS-LCCC Education Exchange Project,” where he first met many of the student organizers of the monthly poetry slam.
The “UAS-LCCC Education Exchange Project” brought UAS students inside the prison for an “integrated” classroom experience. The opportunity to bring university students inside the prison for collaborative study with inmates was co-organized by UAS Professor Sol Neely and LCCC Education Coordinator Paul McCarthy as a component to Neely’s English 418 course “Fugitive Thought: Philosophy and Literature Born of Prison,” which studied culturally significant literature and philosophy born of prison as a privileged perspective from which to open meditations on questions of justice, hope, redemption and ethical responsibility.
Reaching across the profound social barriers that separate the prison and the university, students inside and outside prison learned from each other, working to address and change misconceptions about education, incarceration and power. During the final week of the education exchange, students shared their own poetry and original creative works, which brought the program to an especially intense and emotional conclusion.
When learning of Block’s release from LCCC during the winter break, UAS students who met him through the “UAS-LCCC Education Exchange Project” encouraged him to attend the poetry slam. With heartening hospitality, UAS students have made a campus community for Block, who is enrolling in summer classes at UAS and preparing to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and philosophy.
Meanwhile, Neely and McCarthy are resuming literary and philosophical studies inside LCCC, working to organize with UAS students another integrated three-week creative writing workshop in April.
• Neely is an assistant professor of English and philosophy at the University of Alaska Southeast.