David Swann

The Privilege of Rain (2009)


Time Amongst the Sherwood Outlaws

The widely published and award-winning poetry and prose in this book was inspired by a year spent working as Writer in Residence at HMP Nottingham Prison, where David Swann’s job was to spread literacy in a Category ‘B’ jail housing a wide range of prisoners, ranging from petty crooks to lifers. The jail was built on the vestiges of a low moor, itself once part of Sherwood Forest. The former haunt of legendary outlaws, it was left with just a handful of trees, one of which was rumoured to be rooted in the bodies of executed criminals. Taxi drivers rarely knew how to find the jail. Foxes came and went through the grounds. Rain fell every Thursday.

During the year, two new wings were built, and remand prisoners shipped into the old Victorian wing. As the jail groaned under the expansion programme, routines were transformed, and tensions increased. The Privilege of Rain reflects on the writer’s role in the rehabilitation of offenders, and finds poetry in a lonely place, where ordinary objects like flasks and rain become charged with new meaning, and where language is pressured into fresh shapes:

Staff talked about going ‘on the wing’; time was ‘bird’. They named it ‘stir’, and it never moved. Cells were ‘pads’, as if they’d cushion a fall, or patch a wound, or launch them. David Swann had come ‘inside’ and found the edge.

PLEASE NOTE: This book will be reprinted in the summer of 2020. Please check back for updates.

ISBN: ISBN 978-1-906742-09-6 Category:

Praise and Poems

Shortlisted for Ted Hughes Award 2011

Ever since Ken Smith’s Wormwood contemporary poets have been writing about prisons, their inmates, and the ‘system’. The easy temptation is to be voyeuristic, distanced, protective of self and safety. The Privilege Of Rain avoids these options, and in a sequence of stunning poems and prose sketches brings home to the reader what loss of liberty feels like, what the day to day reality of institutionalisation does to prisoner and staff, why prisoners long for ‘the privilege of rain’. With rare humanity, depth of compassion, and eye for the tell-tale detail, David Swann writes of prison in ways that vividly convey the felt experience of life inside. The collection poses some hard questions: Is justice always about punishment, or can rehabilitation, renewal, redemption also be part of the process? Have criminals lost some of their humanity through their offences, and should they made to lose even more it on the inside, or should they instead be encouraged to reclaim what dignity has gone? Does prison work?’ The Privilege Of Rain takes its place alongside those books that portray incarceration as a process where humanity must show grace under pressure if it is to survive. I cannot recommend this superb first collection highly enough.  – John O’Donoghue, author of  Sectioned: A Life Interrupted

You might think it’s the least of their worries, but prisoners long to feel the rain. This was one of the poignant discoveries made by David Swann after spending a year as writer in
residence. – The Independent

The Privilege of Rain is often richly imaginative, and explores a worthy subject. I applaud its variety of form, as well as the aims of its project: to break down the walls between institution
and reader. – Mark Burnhope

Rather than being judgmental… [the title piece] asks no questions, but instead shows with a keen and humane eye how life carries on, how the things you take for granted, the little things
like the drizzle back home, should never be unappreciated. – Dogmatika

A mixture of poems and prose which works very well, perfectly pitched – the poems pause you, keep you in the intensity of a thought and image, while the prose stretches you into
reflection, conversation, the bigger environment that the work comes from. – Jackie Wills



I have not been touched by her hand,
nor felt it move through the drizzle
that might shine on a coat.

Not shivered as her fingers trail the arm
to the sleeve. To hover on the sleeve
and then slide into the clasp.

Not closed my own fingers
around her quiet bones, nor seen
the slow beat of those eyes,

the steady gaze which says, through rain:
‘I am watching. You are safe.’
Not heard that, nor seen the mouth

which forms the kiss. But I have felt her
deep in the chalks and irons
that make me more than stone.

I have known silence and also trust.
And I have watched the slow comings
of dawn over the slates of this jail,

wondering how the days get here
and where they go. And who I am.
And how I know that I am safe.

Additional information


You may also like…