Poems from Prison, next in PBS NewsHour’s “Where Poetry Lives Series”

Jeffrey Brown and U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey profile
the Pongo Teen Writing Project in Seattle

Monday, March 17, 2014

Helping homeless and incarcerated teens overcome trauma in their lives is the goal of The Pongo Teen Writing Project and is the subject of the next installment in “Where Poetry Lives,” PBS NEWSHOUR’s series exploring societal issues through the lens of poetry.

In a report airing on Monday, March 17, 2014, Jeffrey Brown and U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey visit the King County Juvenile Detention Center near Seattle, Washington to meet participants in the Pongo Project.  The program is the brainchild of Richard Gold, a writer and former Microsoft employee who has spent much of his life volunteering to help children write from the heart about difficult experiences.

For Natasha Trethewey, the visit held special meaning.  “My brother started writing poems in prison.  He told me it was about making something out of the bad situation he was in.  To make a poem out of that situation felt like, the act of creation, a triumph over the experience.”  This triumph over difficult experiences is precisely what Pongo hopes to accomplish. “I think what I do is the essence of poetry,” explained Gold.  “What so many of us struggle with is the unarticulated emotion in our lives.  And when poetry serves that, it’s doing something essential for the person and for society.”


Natasha Trethewey reads her poem “Benediction,” about the day her brother was released from prison.

Pongo project participants read examples of their work including one written during the NewsHour’s visit.  

Previous reports in the “Where Poetry Lives” series include:

A profile of Detroit’s InsideOut Literary Arts Project which places professional writers and poets in inner city schools to help children give voice to their often turbulent lives through poetry and writing.

A look at the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, which uses poems commonly memorized and recited in youth, to bring joy and to trigger long term memories in dementia patients, not just of the poems, but of family members and their own identity.

How Dr. Rafael Campo is using poetry to help medical students hone the art of medicine.

PBS NewsHour’s coverage of poetry is funded by the Poetry Foundation. The “Where Poetry Lives” series is a partnership with the Library of Congress’ Poetry and Literature Center.

The Pongo Publishing Teen Writing Project is a volunteer, nonprofit effort with Seattle teens who are in jail, on the streets, or in other ways leading difficult lives.  Pongo’s website ( www.pongoteenwriting.org ) offers interactive and downloadable writing activities, teen poems, and information for counselors and teachers about how to teach therapeutic poetry to distressed youth.

PBS NEWSHOUR is seen by over four million weekly viewers and is also available online, via public radio in select markets and via podcast. The program is produced with WETA Washington, D.C., and in association WNET in New York. Major corporate funding for PBS NewsHour is provided by BAE Systems, BNSF and Charles Schwab with additional support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Friends of the NewsHour and others.