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Cultural actions

in prison


“Poetry today has practically disappeared from our lives…

There is no longer any real space for it in this increasingly virtual and superficial world where speed and efficiency have taken precedence over dreams and depth.

One place, however, seems to resist this programmed disappearance, a place on the fringes of our society where the space/time markers are different from ours:the prison.

It may seem completely iconoclastic or even inappropriate to affirm here that the penitentiary universe, however harsh, however violent it may be, has a privileged link with poetry. And yet...

For fifteen years, as a director, I have worked with detainees forreading aloud lessons.


I was able to realize how poetry had an unsuspected importance for these captive, solitary beings, in the distance from their loved ones and in the memory of their life before. Poetry in prison has its raison d'être because it is a bandage for the human soul. Many prisoners discover its virtues during the accomplishment of their sentence: this results in the writing of poems, the desire to read them aloud or intimately (the poetic booklets are very popular in the libraries of the establishments) , to listen to it…

I once used the word catharsis on this subject during a discussion with a rap singer, detained in the Nanterre prison: what was my surprise when he told me that a of his new songs, written in the cell, bore precisely this title: catharsis.

During my reading aloud courses, which I center either on a theme or on an author, I am always attentive to thebeauty of textsthat we are going to work together, even if there is sometimes an initial difficulty of understanding: poetry must be tamed and it is this effort that makes the richness of a successful internship.


I am always touched to note that the prisoners, men and women, often turn to the most sentimental, even the most tragic, writings. I will never forget this prisoner taking hold with rare emotional strength of:

“There is no happy love” by Aragon, or that other who, despite his pronunciation difficulties, did his best to say “Le dormeur du val” by Rimbaud.

Recently, I offered to read some Jacques Prévert: each participant had a pocket with about thirty poems (very varied in their theme) and had to choose three in priority to work on them.

After a first round of the table, I was not surprised to find that everyone had chosen the one which, precisely, left the greatest place to Love:

"Ruby Heart"

"I know how to say I love you but I don't know how to love

Your ruby heart, what have I done with it?

I played at love, I didn't even know how to play

Your ruby heart, what have I done with it? »

Let's not forget that among the poets, those who have left their mark in the history of literature, some have known the horrors of confinement and detention. Let us quote: Paul Verlaine, Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Desnos, Max Jacob, Jean Genet… and so many others; that they drew there, in this forced return on themselves, in this despair, in this deprivation of freedom, a source of renewed inspiration"


Éric Cénat, director and actor

Since 1986, the Théâtre de l'Imprévu has intervened in the following penitentiary centers

Orleans-Saran(45),Reau(77),Villepinte(93),Meaux-Chauconin-Neufmontiers(77),Chateaudun(28), Hauts de Seine(92),Melun(77),Bourges(18),Blois(41),Chartres(28),reindeer(35), Fresnes(94),Health(75),Bois d'Arcy(92)...
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