A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a senseof wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.
These words of Robert Frost paint a visual image familiar to students in Dan Marcou’s poetry class at Hennepin County’s Adult Corrections Facility (ACF). Marcou, the corrections librarian from Hennepin County Library visits residents of the facility weekly, toting recreational books, responding to residents’ research requests, and teaching creative writing.
The results of his work with the temporarily incarcerated learners have now been published in a volume entitled Poems from the Inside. Marcou coordinated the project and edited the volume of poetry. The publication is supported with funds provided by Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, Coffee House Press and the Friends of Ridgedale Library.
“Writing programs in correctional settings have produced dramatic results for those who experience them,” Marcou told professional colleagues when he spoke at the annual conference of the American Library Association meeting in Anaheim last month.
Marcou’s creative writing compilation builds on the shoulders of his predecessors. Past publications include Creative Minds: Our Right to Write (2007), Words from Within (2008), Set Me Free (2009) and “free to dream”.
One of Marcou’s unique initiatives is development of the Freedom Ticket program which educates inmates on how libraries can help them transition to the life outside the facility. The program includes job resource workshops and a website with information on programs and resources to support residents after their release. It was the Freedom Ticket program that earned Marcou a special commendation from the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners.
When he is not providing direct library service at the ACF Marcou energetically supports Streetfiction.org, a goldmine of information about “street literature” and ways in which libraries and other institutions can incorporate street fiction into their collection. For those of us unfamiliar with the term, contemporary street literature is defined as
A literary genre where the stories, be they fiction or non-fiction, are consistently set in urban, inner-city enclaves. Street literature of yesteryear and today, by and large, depicts tales about the daily lives of people living in lower income city neighborhoods. This characteristic spans historical timelines, varying cultural identification, linguistic association, and various format designations. Readers Advisory Guide to Street Literature, 2011, p.2.
Describing himself as “a fan of urban fiction as a reader and a librarian” Marceau adds that “every genre has its flaws and critics, but in my work, I’ve been able to better serve my customers and explore a whole new world of books with urban fiction. By developing StreetFiction.org I hope I’m an advocate for the genre, but my main goal is to connect readers to the books they enjoy reading.”
Summarizing the impact of his work with the ACF residents Marcou reflects that “respect carries a lot of weight inside a facility. I give the residents the same level of customer service I would in any other library I’ve worked in. I want them to have a positive library experience because this is the first time many of them have ever used a library, and if they enjoy it on the inside, the chances are better they will use a public library after their release.”