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  • NYS Writers Institute

Poetry Friday: Randall Horton

"We do not experience movement

the cell a setting a chronic theme

we do not experience only exist"

-- Randall Horton, "Rhetorical, Perhaps"

More than 20 years ago, when Randall Horton was incarcerated in Maryland, convicted of smuggling cocaine, he began writing as a way to escape his confinement. It was through this writing that he began to reevaluate his life while dreaming of a better one than he’d had before he was incarcerated.

Horton’s Maryland Department of Corrections number now has a new significance. It is the title of his fourth book of poetry, {#289-128}: Poems, which has been awarded the prestigious American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Previous recipients of the award include Toni Morrison and Isabel Allende.

“I was quite stunned,” said Horton, who upon release from prison earned a Ph.D. in English at UAlbany and is now an associate professor of English at the University of New Haven (CT), "the only person in the United States with seven felony convictions and academic tenure" (PEN America).

“I think the time I spent on the inside allowed me to not only reassess my life, but it opened my eyes to the many disparities that often occur to those doing time,” said Horton, who has also received the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award and the Bea González Poetry Award, as well as a National Endowment of the Arts Literature Fellowship.

(With excerpts from a story published at the University of New Haven, Read more)


Join us as we welcome the acclaimed poet and UAlbany graduate for two events.


Craft Talk — 4:30 p.m., Multi-Purpose Room, Campus Center West Addition

Reading/Q&A — 7:30 p.m., Campus Center Assembly Hall

Both events, free and open to the public, at University at Albany, 1400 Washington Avenue, Albany 12222

The moderator will be poet Sarah Giragosian, a professor in UAlbany's Writing and Critical Inquiry Program.


Horton's new collection, {#289-128}: Poems (2020) addresses America’s prison industrial complex and the paradoxical idea of freedom in a cell. Winner of an NEA Fellowship and the Gwendolyn Brooks and Bea Gonzalez Poetry Awards, he’s also a member of the performance group Heroes Are Gang Leaders, winners of the 2018 American Book Award in Oral Literature, and creators of The Amiri Baraka Sessions, named “Best Vocal Jazz Album” by NPR in 2019.

He is also the author of the poetry collections Pitch Dark Anarchy (2013), The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (2009), and The Definition of Place (2006), and Hook: A Memoir (2015), which explores his downward spiral from student to drug addict, cocaine smuggler, and incarcerated felon.

Here is a poem from {#289-128}: Poems.

“Sorry This Not That Poem”

By Randall Horton

raised block flower & plant bed. peonies, gardenias, poinsettias plus a yellow orb slow rising over an endless golden scape—

darting through uncluttered space cardinals, thrashes, sparrows blue air fragrant with lavender washing brain matter into virtue.

if only i could pastel alphabets onto a canvas of thistledown yes, deceit comes to mind— .a lie. traitor. turncoat. recreant

backstabber here i would be gut shanked a million times. this is not that poem nor am i that poet to hold your hand

.or. erase knothole screams blood on a cement floor .or. suicide is another form of escape no-no-no—yes-i-do promise

the evil-ugly humans inflict on each other to their [selves] how time is malice is death inflaming pupils with spite

inextinguishable if set free— forgive state poet #289-128 for not scribbling illusions of trickery as if timeless hell

could be captured by stanzas alliteration or slant rhyme—

A video excerpt from Randall Horton's 2016 visit to the NYS Writers Institute

More Randall Horton



All individuals, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask or other face covering while inside any UAlbany owned, operated or leased building.

Unvaccinated individuals are also required to wear face coverings in all outdoor settings. This revised mask requirement will remain in place until the University removes the requirement upon the recommendations of the CDC or other public health officials. Individuals should not attend our in-person events if they — or anyone in their household — are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19.


Courtesy parking for Writers Institute events on the Uptown Campus will be available in the State Quad Student Parking Lot one hour prior to and one hour after events.

Visitor parking lots are also available for $5 per vehicle, though parking spaces are very limited.

For a map of the UAlbany campuses including parking lots, visit


Coming up... 4th Annual Albany Book Festival, September 25

The fourth annual event, on Saturday, Sept. 25, at the University at Albany, will be held in-person for the first time since 2019. Events will begin at 10:30 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. More information at


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