Published December 23, 2013 in Writing Without Paper
In 1976, twenty-three-year-old Joseph Bathanti began his “walk away from [his] past” in Pittsburgh. That he’d earned a master’s degree but “wished to spend [his] days among criminals” left his parents confused and hushed. Bathanti knew nothing of the place he was heading to — North Carolina — or of the place to which he’d been assigned — a prison in Mecklenburg County. For this newly minted VISTA volunteer, any road out of Pittsburgh, to freedom, he was glad to take. That “[his] life was just starting” left Bathanti “near euphoria”. Driving south, he could never have guessed that it would take him more than three decades to articulate one of the most important lessons he learned as a “fugitive from [his] former life” up North: that we all, in our way — some by our choices, others by the misfortune of our circumstance — put in some “felon time”.
It was not until the fall of 2013 that Joseph Bathanti, currently Poet Laureate of North Carolina, published Concertina (Mercer University Press), a remarkable collection of narrative poems that, in language both colloquial and lyrical, relate his true introduction to life, not only inside prison but also outside the razor wire.
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