"A Pair of Ragged Claws": Poetry and Pedagogy in Prison


  • Alex Trebar Deer Ridge Correctional Institution
  • Steven Maack Wichita High School East




Alex Tretbar, a Wichitan and graduate of the University of Kansas, reflects on his incarceration in Oregon and the role of literature in helping him and others who live in prison make sense of their experience. During his imprisonment, Tretbar acquired a job as a GED tutor and eventually took on a role as leader of a poetry and fiction study group. He shares experiences common to teachers of poetry both in and out of prison and demonstrates the power of poetry to help people learn about language, connect with each other, and appreciate how poetry can teach us about ourselves. Moreover, poetry and pedagogy have their own unique relevance in prison. Tretbar forms several important connections with other imprisoned men through their poetry group and explores how the power of poetry can help teachers and students confront the personal, political, and artistic issues we all face. Eventually, Tretbar's poetry group is shut down by a prison-wide COVID-19 lockdown just as its members were receiving instruction from visiting poets and educators. Steven Maack, one of Tretbar's high school English teachers, introduces Tretbar's reflection and provides an update in an afterword.






Reflective Essays