Praise for The Pentridge Trilogy

I'll be adding to this from time to time, as new accolades come in.


On the books collectively:

You have made a real contribution to justice and empathy and Australian poetry with these 3 books. On Monday my writers' group discussed your books and writing on prison in general and current prison reform. The consensus is that you are a brave woman and your trilogy is an important addition to literature on the topic.


– KS, poet, film maker and historian.



I just finished both the memoir and the chapbook! Reading Breaking into Pentridge Prison in book-form was a whole other experience and even though I knew the broad story, I found myself in tears at the end. 

Letters to a Dead Man was even more moving, especially when I saw the date on some of the poems. Time stays still and we just pretend it moves by writing different poems. 


– RR, poet and podcaster.



Oh my lord! Letters to a Dead Man! Masterful poetry, marvellous mistress of the way you put the words together. 


Could not put Breaking Into Pentridge Prison down either – did not turn out the light until 11.30pm!!! One thing I enjoyed was your clear, straightforward and unencumbered prose. The short chapters carried the narrative along without drag or mystery. 10/10.


– JF, poet and teacher.



I read the poems first and then finished the biography last night and just wanted to say that I was really moved. The poetry itself was powerful and there’s just so much depth, emotion and wisdom throughout them and your story. It really struck me how you’d had an amazing, unique experience that few people would ever encounter and I loved the way that you told your story with such unflinching honesty and compassion. 


I felt I’d experienced something important and interesting, and also learned a lot: a reader can’t ask for more!  And as well as the sadness and wisdom, your sense of humour came through too – lots of fun and interesting observations about people and life would pop up in your biography. Overall they were a really good read. 


– MM, accountant.



Your Pentridge books are so good and so important. I have enjoyed reading your wise, observant and poignant words.


– ML, poet, publisher, convenor.



I found the memoir, and the new poems, so very moving. I hope it's widely read, and the prisoners' reprinted poetry was also very worthwhile revisiting.


It's a brave and honest account of an antiquated system that harmed people. And how just a small amount of humanity can change everything for the powerless. Thank you for writing it.


– LH, poet and musician.




On Breaking into Pentridge Prison:


Your Breaking into Pentridge Prison (brilliant title) is a fascinating and moving memoir. 


– CB, author.



I read it in a day. Although it’s profound, it’s an easy read. 


– ST, poet and educator.



You capture the soul of prisoners and life ‘inside.’ 


– MS, poet and psychologist.



It’s an important piece of social history, a story that needed to be told, and a story only Rosemary could tell. 

– HS, author.



I found it very readable.

– WT, aerodynamicist.



Up to page 39 of your book which I started last night and absolutely loving it. It's such an engaging and interesting read. Makes me think of all the people I know, and those I don't, who have done time and wonder things about them that I haven't thought about before. I'm getting to know you better too. Well done girl.


– MM, disability pensioner.



On Blood from Stone 


One of my favourite works of poetry. 


– DN, coder.



The collection is an eye-opener. The quality of the writing stands the test of time.


– KS, poet, film maker and historian.



I agree with [a reviewer's] remark that it should be used in schools to educate young people about crime and its consequences. I also think that the poems in their own right are funny and "coruscating." For enjoyment as well as education.


– DG, retired.


On Letters to a Dead Man


I would place this book beside The Prophet on my bookshelf. Skilful. I am transported into my private place. Glad you made the effort to publish and launch and make the world a little richer. 


– KJ, author and artist.



Although love poetry can be cloying [this book] contained love poems that are interesting, well written and enriched with literary devices. There is not sentimentality but authentic emotions that touch the reader. 


– BC, poet and psychologist.

A new review of 'The Pentridge Trilogy'

 

By Rajani Radhakrishnan, reposted with permission from her Thought Purge blog



Rosemary Nissen-Wade has published a trilogy that absolutely must find a place in your reading list for 2024. Rosemary is an excellent poet as many of you on the poetry trail know, she is also a dear friend and source of inspiration. Here’s a 13-point review of two very special books from that set.


1. Breaking into Pentridge Prison tells of her experience, in the eighties, conducting workshops for prisoners in the Northern and Maximum-Security units of Melbourne’s Pentridge prison. “If you’re not mad when you get there, you will be by the time you leave” – public view on Pentridge.


2. Describing poetry discussions in that oppressive environment, monitored by armed guards, with people incarcerated for serious crimes, Rosemary reinforces our faith in art as a medium, if not of healing, of reprieve, of light, albeit a tiny, ephemeral sliver of sunshine. “Looking back, I think I was perfect for those prison workshops. Anyway, after the first, I was hooked.


3. The text is dotted with poetry written by the prisoners and fellow-poets and her own verses, telling their own stories in words that are at once, strange and familiar. Some of those poems found their way into an anthology published from the prison, “Blood from Stone” (the third book in the trilogy, now in a new edition). “…what price a poet / in the all-seeing / in-the-round panopticon / what price the poet’s visitor / with only that way out…” (Untitled poem – Linda Stevenson). “…There is no wish for the pool of youth, immortality / rather time’s end and be / old, dead, anything! / but be free” (Nothing – Dallas Duncan)


4. Rosemary talks of her friendship with some of those who attended the workshops, highlighting the person inside the prisoner, the poet inside the inmate. From “I’ve got these poems here. They’re not very good.” to years of affection, correspondence and meetings even after release.


5. And then she talks of love. An impossible, forbidden, enduring love. The honesty is striking as she bares details of heart and crime, leaving the reader in no doubt about the complex twists of human relationships.


6. More tellingly, she talks of how the pressure of an intimidating environment and all that the world of crime and punishment contains behind its stone walls, affects the people who dare to enter it. What happens when the ‘outside’ is forced to intersect with the ‘inside’, poetry and love are forced to interact with threats and mind-games and secrets. And how does it affect families and children? “…I taste my ageing. / All my years / you’ll go on being dead.


7. “Apprentice on the tightrope / I juggle half-a-dozen balancing acts” – Rosemary writes of the growing unease “If they distract me, I’ll trip /A fall would be real: / There is no net.


8. Should we look at crime as a binary? How should we think of redemption? What is the axis of social acceptance? The story of John — prisoner, poet, friend, criminal, lover — is instructive in its violent sadness. Then, should we look at love as a binary? And people? “What sad contradictory world / shuts loving men in jail — / and leaves the many others / free to walk?”


9. In the end, is this an overwhelming story about life or love or poetry? The reader wonders if there is a difference. “…I stare new darkness/ down its depth / forget too slowly / other faces trapped / in blood and stone…


10. Letters to a Dead Man is a companion book to Breaking into Pentridge Prison. As the opening note says, the poems in it can stand alone, but become more poignant when you know the back story.


11. There are poems from last year and some that go back to 1981, with haunting lines and verses like this one: “Always / is too long a word for love” or this “A poem/ on a page you’ll never see. / Flights / impossible / even for sparrows.


12. A memoir always struggles with what not to say, how much to say and yet there are things that can and will never be shared. But these books have enough, more than enough, to do the one thing good books do, leave the reader wiser and yet with more introspective questions than before they started.


13. “As public as a headline / Private as a night in a cell” – Rosemary has put together a one-of-a-kind memoir set that simply needs to be read. Get it from http://www.nissen-wade.com


(Photo by Rajani Radhakrishnan)

Note from Rosemary

When I first started writing my Pentridge memoir, I posted episodes to a blog as I wrote them, and shared them with members of the online community, Poets and Storytellers United. Many were very interested and left encouraging comments – no-one more so than Rajani, whose own poetry I've admired for years, and whose own books I've been delighted to acquire. She read every episode I posted, made insightful comments, and followed them up in email discussions full of both poetic and emotional wisdom, which deepened and consolidated our friendship. As I say in the Acknowledgments in the memoir, her 'unfailing interest and deeply understanding feedback on both the writing and the content were crucial to my continuing.'

And now, having received copies of the books of the trilogy, she has written this review for her blog and given me permission to quote it. Which I have gladly done in full.


Launching the 'Pentridge Trilogy'

(or trifecta, as some of my friends are calling it!)

I invited local award-winning poet and educator Sarah Temporal, the convenor of the very successful Poets Out Loud performances, to launch the books. I was thrilled with the things she said! 

Here she is making the speech:











And here is what she said:


My name is Sarah Temporal. I’m thrilled to be with you today to launch this wonderful trilogy from Rosemary Nissen-Wade. When Rosemary invited me, I had no idea how profound this work would be. As she declares: it’s a pilgrimage. And, what a privilege it is as a reader to walk that pilgrimage with her. 

 

'What is the story you have never told?' she ponders. 'The one that will free you to tell all the rest'. 

 

In the heyday of Melbourne's notorious Pentridge Prison in the 80s, Rosemary Nissen (as she was known then) introduced a series of poetry workshops for the inmates, including those in the high security division. She did not know that there she would encounter both love and tragedy.

This extraordinary trilogy comprises: the memoir of her life-changing experiences there, Breaking Into Pentridge Prison: Memories of Darkness and Light; the re-released anthology of prisoners' poetry created in those workshops, Blood From Stone; and a chapbook of Rosemary's own poems and prose-poems, revealing for the first time the most personal aspect of that story, Letters to a Dead Man

 

One of my catch-cries is: poetry is for everyone. As a poetry educator and community arts producer I know that the most incredible poetry does not belong to universities or libraries, that it flourishes anywhere there is a willing listener and permission to share what's most important. And when I first met Rosemary to chat about starting a poetry night here in Murwillumbah, I was thrilled to learn that she had been a key player in the Melbourne-based poetry movement that inscribed those values on Australian poetry. The Poets Union / 'rat bag school of poetry' as they called themselves insisted that poetry should reflect and be represented in the reality of people's lives, wherever that was. Behind the bluestone walls of Pentridge there were poets… Rosemary went in at their request.

 

And yet I was not prepared for this book. Breaking Into Pentridge Prison recounts with compelling honesty and stark precision the experiences of those workshops. The electric atmosphere of free expression, deepening conversation in an environment that prohibited any kind of vulnerability. Friendships developing with men she calls 'Youngest,' 'Tallest,' 'Sweet-face.' Navigating mind games, threats, stresses and strains; and the toxic atmosphere leaking into life outside. 'Pentridge would warp anyone.' 

 

Yet, most surprising, the central personal thread is a love story. Which I can't spoil for you now – I can tell you that I found it affirming and heartbreaking all at once. I was so invested I couldn't put it down. I don't think it could have been handled by any other writer. 

 

One of the remarkable achievements of this memoir is that Rosemary fastidiously avoids any sensationalism in her descriptions of the prison and its horror. It makes the work all the more impactful, I feel, to follow an author who deals in the utmost integrity with her subjects: placing humanity at the centre, even in a setting that denied these men humanity in some cases their entire adult lives. 

 

Although each of these works stands alone, they will make you hungry for more: dip into any one and you’ll start seeking and gathering threads of the other two. 

 

The prisoners' own works are anthologised in Blood from Stone, capturing the reality of life behind prison walls as only they can. These poems are a cry from the deepest parts of human experience; a cry to he heard. Included alongside the workshop participants' poetry, at their insistence, are also pieces from visiting poets who tutored there: Myron Lysenko, Linda Stevenson, Nicholas G Coleman, and Rosemary herself. 

 

Letters to a Dead Man, I read breathlessly. I have never before understood how vital the link between poetry and memory is: here is a whole personal history that is so alive and immediate, as if it happened yesterday. These poems vibrate, a mark of having been carried for half a lifetime. As poet Chris Mansell says, Rosemary has been able to make love walk through time although it cannot walk through walls.  

 

This is a body of work that gives voice to the most pivotal and profound experiences. Tenderly, poetically, and with unflinching directness, Rosemary brings to light an important social history that might otherwise lie forgotten. More importantly though, she shares with us the most intimate of human stories; one that, I hope, sets her free to tell all the rest. 

 

I am excited for all of you to delve into reading these books, to enjoy, discover, to witness and treasure these remarkable stories and poems. It is my pleasure to declare the Pentridge trilogy launched.



It's All Happening!


 

I'm crazy busy preparing for the local book launch on 25 November!

The three books are being released initially as a package, at a discount price. This deal will remain in place for the rest of 2023. Katrin, of Pentridge Voices (also my layout advisor and cover designer) had suggested – when we had wild thoughts that I could travel to Melbourne and launch the books in the Pentridge historical section – that we tie them in bundles with red ribbon. I don't find travel very easy any more, but I've adopted her idea for the local launch. As you see, I've started preparing the bundles.

They'll be pre-signed – yes, by my own hand, over and over again – but if people want a personal message added, they'll need to take them out of the ribbons and line up. They probably will anyway, as my cover artist, Lisi Klein, will be there too, ready to sign the two volumes featuring her lovely artwork, and that will be something only attendees at the launch can get.

Some of the RSVPs are slow to come in – get on to it please, guys, if you read this – but we already have more acceptances than the Community Centre has chairs! Luckily they can borrow some from the adjacent Nullum House drop-in centre and the Youth Centre.  The space is plenty big enough to take more. It would be good to know the exact number we'll need, also to make sure we have the right quantities of books and refreshments. Never mind, I'll just aim to over-cater!

I've had a look to see where we'll set up the refreshment table, the book buying table, the book inscribing table; and where the power points are for the mic and the card-reader. Friends have offered to do the food, and to help set up the space beforehand. I've bought more tea bags, coffee bags, paper plates and serviettes than we're likely to need....

Meanwhile I've posted the legal deposit copies, review copies, and gift copies to people who were particularly helpful and supportive in making these books happen.

It's really real!!!


Curses and/or Blessings


This self-publishing lurk can get a bit fraught! But sometimes what seems bad can turn out good.


Bad


A kind friend volunteered to organise a place for me to have my book launch. I followed up with a phone call; all seemed good. Then COVID happened, and then major flooding happened. The place was closed for months for renovations, and to raise it above flood level. When it reopened, I finally went to look it over and immediately realised it wouldn’t be big enough. The manager, a very nice woman, was cool about the sudden cancellation. Then I had to scramble to find another venue.


I soon realised I would need Public Liability insurance for most places, which I don’t have. 


Good


I approached Pottsville Beach Neighbourhood Centre, where I’ve volunteered for a number of years, running writing workshops, and also was on the Committee for a while, to see if I could hire one of their rooms. The Centre Manager, Angela, thought their spaces wouldn’t be big enough either, but suggested that because of my volunteer status they could sponsor the event, which is related to the work I’ve done for them, and cover me for Public Liability somewhere else. My local Community Centre is an ideal space, and available, so that's where it's  happening. Whew!





Bad


Because of the printing delay I mentioned in my last update, I had to move the launch date a couple of weeks. I'd intended to have it on my 84th birthday on November 12.

It's now happening on November 25th – bringing it close enough to Christmas that people are starting to get a bit careful about where they spend their money. I’m releasing the three books as a package deal. Even at 20% discount, with signed copies and all, it’s a big ask at this time of year. Also everyone starts to get a bit busy now. Among other things, it means that a geographically distant friend, who had been going to visit me at the time of the launch, can’t come now that the date has been moved. She’ll make it up here later, which is lovely, and still wants the books, but it’s a disappointment to us both.


Even worse


Two of the men whose work is featured in Blood from Stone and who are also part of the story I tell in the memoir, one a particularly close friend for many years, died before I could send them copies of the books, which I had much looked forward to doing – one suddenly, after a fall; the other after a year-long illness which it had appeared he was at last overcoming. If I hadn’t been delayed by having to do a reprint, they would have received the books in good time to have a read.


Good?


The men who died knew the books were happening, and approved. One had even read the first draft of the memoir and pronounced it good.


However, the times I deal with in the books were long ago for them, and painful to revisit. If they had to leave us, perhaps it’s better that, as it turned out, they didn’t have occasion to revisit that painful past yet again via the published books. At least, it’s some small comfort to think so.


Bad


I discovered some imperfections in Blood from Stone and realised that this too had been produced in the wrong version, before final proofing and corrections – too late now to order a reprint. 


Good-ish


Those who have seen the printed book tell me nothing leaps out at them. I realise most of the typos are things which might be noticed, but the reader's mind would skip over, automatically supplying the corrections. 


There are two typos to which that wouldn't apply – one changes the meaning of what is said – but I have been able to type the correct versions in matching font, and am painstakingly cutting and pasting them in manually over the mistakes – in every copy! Tedious and time-consuming, but I don't choose to let the books go out with crucial errors.


Ironic? Spooky?


The dream, or rather nightmare about the launch, which I recounted in my previous post, included this:


 I looked for a copy of the memoir to read something from that as planned. The only copy I could put my hands on was wrapped in a sheet of paper on which the head of the printer’s production team had written all the reasons why he could not completely carry out my instructions for corrections, and what he had done instead. The book itself was a mess! Some of the corrections were on pages badly pasted over the old ones. Others he hadn’t done at all. And that was the only copy I could find. I clutched it, aghast, with no idea what to do next.


In real life, the book doesn’t look a mess; all the books look beautiful. And it's not the memoir but the anthology in which some errors are uncorrected and others are (neatly!) pasted over. But I can't help thinking that was something of a psychic dream.


Bad


You can’t find these books on Amazon yet. When I did my survey as to whether people wanted paperbacks or ebooks, the overwhelming majority preferred paperbacks. I was advised it would be cheaper to do a print run than POD, so I estimated what I thought I could sell and ordered that number. When I get rid of them, I’ll go to POD and ebooks. 


In the past, being a lover of ebooks myself, I have wished authors wouldn’t wait until after the release of their paperbacks to bring out the ebooks. Now I understand why!


Good


It’s my intention they will be available through Amazon later. Meanwhile, I’ve set up a business account which I’ll link to my PayPal, and there will be a link on my website for you to order your copies. Just let me get through the forthcoming local launch first. Then I’ll let all you people who don’t live in the same town as me (or even the same country in many cases) know the details. I’m looking at doing a Zoom launch for you, too! 


Hang in there, and I will keep you posted.