“Beats and Bars: An Anthology

of Stories, Poems, and Songs

from Guitar Doors”

Edited by Jim Svendsen and Oren Stevens

Guitar Doors, Gorham, 2013

84 pages, trade paperback with CD disc

“Beats and Bars” combines our time’s two prevailing major assumptions about the raison d’etre for most art: self-expression and social activism. It’s the literary and musical product of a project by Jim Svendsen and Oren Stevens to go into the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and the MaineStay program for homeless teens, and offer the people there a chance to write and sing about the profound difficulties in their lives.

It is certainly a worthy endeavor of compassion and hope. The 41 entries in the book provide first-person glimpses — in the form of poems, fiction, autobiographical writings and journal entries — into the thoughts and lives of people who have found themselves in terrifically painful places, both physical and psychic. The expressions of trouble are pretty raw, as you would expect, and because of it, the reading is not for the fainthearted. Chris, of Long Creek, writes:

I hate that I have no one to share my hopes and dreams with.

I hate that I no longer have any hopes and dreams.

I have no one to tell me to hold on, that I will find them again.

When I scream, I am screaming into emptiness.

I imagine, having brushed up against these emotions long ago as a night counselor at a halfway house for prison inmates, that sentences like this are most likely therapeutic — though not curative — for the writer. The book provides the next step, forming a connecting point between the private act of self-expression and actual readers. The writings are painful to encounter, while the music on the CD, skillfully guided by the editors, has the uplifting listenability of living-room jam sessions.

There is hope in help. While it has been increasingly difficult over the years to convince creative writing students that poetry has purposes and effects that carry beyond self-expression or social activism, “Beats and Bars” reinforces the idea that the two purposes gain their highest value when they converge.

You can help Guitar Doors’ 2014 undertaking to work with women at the Maine Correctional Center on writing, music and visual arts through their website at www.guitardoors.org.

“Beats and Bars” is available at Longfellow Books in Portland or by contacting Jim Svendsen in Gorham at [email protected].

Dana Wilde runs the Parallel Uni-Verse website for Maine poetry at www.dwildepress.net/universe. Please contact him at [email protected] with news of Maine books and literary events.