University of Arizona’s Poetry Center Invites Four Incarcerated California Poets to Appear on Podcast with Award-Winning Poet Randall Horton

(Photo courtesy of University of Arizona Poetry Center)

By Benjamin Frandsen

CHOWCHILLA, CA – The externally published carceral poets the Mundo Press—Last Jedi Left, Skrybe and Ghostwrite Mike—have achieved a media first in California by appearing on a resident-produced podcast called Poetry Centered from Valley State Prison (VSP).

The four poets have been invited by the University of Arizona to appear together on a performing arts podcast to appear with an acclaimed performance poet.

A letter in support of the artists was drafted by Poetry Center’s Outreach Librarian Julie Johson and Dr. Randall Horton. The four creators were chosen given their published works, orchestration of the Barz Behind Bars (B³) poetry workshop, B³ peer mentor facilitators positions and their advanced ability to wield language at the intersection of poetry and music.

“These are the creators the world needs to hear from concerning the realities of the carceral state. The status quo has sadly kept their voices unheard for far too long, but in California particularly, times are changing and resident agency is now more viable,” Horton said.

He continued, discussing the poetry and music workshop, Radical Reversal, co-founded by Horton, “The democratization of the arts includes those technologies that we at Radical Reversal have worked to normalize resident access to within carceral settings throughout the country.”

Poetry Centered’s episode featuring the four creators will include an interview with Horton and the presentation of original poetry in addition to a music driven collaborative piece.

Co-founders Horton, and multi-talented jazz musician Devin Brahja Waldman will be live-audio-capturing the program segment at VSP.

The pair have previously tracked numerous carceral state resident poets in multiple states from within the respective Radical Reversal studios they have installed abroad and platformed those creatives via nonprofit University podcast partnerships.

Skrybe, whose poem “Badge” was published by the nonprofit Prison Journalism Project, described the opportunity to meet and appear with Horton as being “so surreal, because I had the chance to meet Dwayne Betts when he visited VSP earlier this year, so I feel doubly blessed to have this opportunity to showcase my art with Radical Reversal.”

Last Jedi Left, who is an Away With Words program alumni, said, “It’s an honor to be included by Dr. Horton along with my Barz crew, with whom I’ve met with Common’s Rebirth of Sound team at VSP multiple times leading up to this moment—we ready.”

The Mundo Press published an interview with Horton that appeared in the Columbia University magazine the Exchange. They have also shared their poetry on the Ben Free podcast and Saturday Night Stars podcasts by appearing via phone using the GTL/ViaPath tablet issued by VSP.

“This is what we’ve been working towards, and we are so proud to have Randall and the Poetry Center trust and believe in us like this. We hope our facility administration embraces the artistic community we’ve worked so hard to curate, and supports our creative form of mentorship,” The Mundo Press commented.

Ghostwrite Mike, whose “Flip The Script” poem was published by the Prison Journalism Project, and who has had his creatives appear in Columbia University’s magazine Exchange, Slate, Open Campus Media, College Inside, San Quentin News, and has performed poetry on both the Ben Free and Saturday Night Stars podcasts via phone using his GTL/ViaPath tablet, is not only personally mentored by Horton, but also sits on the Radical Reversal Board of Directors, having previously co-founded B³.

Ghostwrite Mike described being “beyond humbled, but equally pumped to see what we set out to do so long ago, finally get legitimate traction in a meritous creative space like the Poetry Center’s platform.”

Mundo and Ghost advocate for young residents to acquire creative agency during confinement, with Mundo noting, “We’re standing at the front of this, because somebody had to be first, but this is for the younger guys who need it, because this is how poetry elevates and transcends the page—the performance art piece of this is about mentorship.”

Ghost thanked “Julie, Randall, Devin, and all the folks that stood with us early, and believe in the arts. We salute Natalie Diaz, Mitch Jackson, Dwayne, and Randall for being first to stand publicly with us, and giving life to our B³ workshop. It starts with the work, using the pain, trauma, loss, regret, and hope that we all contend with. The rest is how you reach people with it. Distribution matters. Being heard matters.”

To date, carceral podcasts produced in California like Ear Hustle and UnCuffed haven’t had nonprofit University partnerships or presented exclusively the literary performance art audio content that is the hallmark of the B³ workshop.

These four poets hope to present trauma-informed prose that prompts young residents to reflect on their prior decisions, and contemplate their future choices. The University of Arizona’s Poetry Center has just given them their first audio platform invitation—now it’s up to VSP to enable it.

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