Last Monday saw a collection of young poets take to the stage in protest of one of the most controversial topics discussed in the twenty-first century: The death penalty. We decided to head to Jam Café to see the University of Nottingham’s Poetry and Spoken Word Society in action.
Those of us who have been to Jam Café can testify that, in addition to being one of the grooviest venues in the city centre, it is also one of the smallest. This is never more apparent than when it is a packed house as it was last Monday for the Amicus ALJ Spoken Word event; Patrons found themselves huddled up in strange corners and sitting cross-legged on the floor, perching on the edges of tables and leaning against the bar and one another in equal measure. That is not to say there was much by way of discomfort, however: The atmosphere from the get-go was one of intimate and intense respect, no doubt reflecting the soberness of the subject matter.
Organised by Laura Chamberlain, herself a student ambassador for Amicus ALJ, and compered by Chris Lanyon, the event saw ten young poets from the University of Nottingham’s Poetry and Spoken Word Society take to the stage, each one reading out a poem from a death-row inmate in the US and a subsequent response piece. Readings were suitably sombre, with reflections on mortality and lamentations of guilt sharing space with nostalgic memories of family and freedom. The companion pieces, each provided by the poets themselves, sought to add a counter-point to the poems from death-row, either by responding directly to the poem or by attempting to link the poet’s experiences with the inmates. Poems ranged from the tangential to the direct, with Joe Andrew’s piece, which simply listed the final meals of death-row inmates, subtly adding an air of humanity to a group of people who have had their humanity stripped away, and Lucy Hallam’s poem admitting that while she is able to extend a level of sympathy to her inmate of choice, she does not think that “[they] would be friends”. Of particular note was Tyrell Peters’ poem that links the struggles of those convicted and sentenced in the States to the world he grew up in, a fiery and oftentimes painful acceptance of universal struggle.
Overall this is an event that achieved, in part, what it set out to do. Money was raised for Amicus, yes, but of equal importance was the ways in which those awaiting their fate on death-row were humanised and empathised with. At the core of the event lied an inherent respect for life, and in this the event was a success.
Amicus ALJ was founded in 1992 and aims to fight for inmates facing the death penalty by providing legal support. Further details regarding Amicus ALJ can be found at their website at http://www.amicus-alj.org/.