The Poetry Café hosts a lively programme of art exhibitions inspired by poetry and literature. A number of our exhibitions have toured to other venues, resulted in publications or have been shortlisted for the prestigious Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. We collaborate regularly with up-and-coming artists, including students from the Illustration and Graphic Design departments of Middlesex University.

Current exhibition – Voices from the Row: art and poetry from death row, San Quentin • 4 June – 7 July 2018 

Voices from the Row presents a collection of poetry written and read by prisoners incarcerated on death row at San Quentin state prison in the USA. In the words of one of the prisoners, “This exhibition of work shows that poetry and art has the power to not only exist in a place akin to hell, but to thrive there and transcend it by searching and finding beauty within the bowels of pain, desolation and despair.”

The prisoners who have written and who you will hear reading their poems are condemned to a sentence of death. Through their poetry they strive to express the deep-seated emotions stirring inside them and to connect to a social world they are deprived of. Steve Champion, incarcerated on death row in 1982 at the age of 18, says of poetry on death row: “Writing has forced these men to take stock of their life, and poetry has become a way to reconnect to their own humanity. They understand there can be no self transformation or redemption without a process of self examination. To free themselves from the shackles of their own past requires a constant mirror. To write poetry and create art allows these men to see a reflection of their own souls”.

As well as poetry, this unique and thought-provoking exhibition will feature artworks and objects created by death row inmates. Art on display will be available for purchase; 20% of proceeds will be donated to charity and the remainder will be donated to the prisoners to enable them to purchase writing and art materials.

Curated by Nicola White

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