Permission, Disability, Stairs and Whispers, and a poem by Nuala Watt

I only came across the term ‘permission’ in regards of writing when being mentored by Jo Bell. Her wonderful project, 52 had given over five hundred writers the safe space to share their poetry with others in a similar position; the project had essentially given many of them permission to write. Recently I received a different type of permission when attending the Stairs and Whispers event at Ledbury Poetry Festival; the permission to accept that I have a disability.

Stairs and Whispers COVERThis was the launch of the anthology of “D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back”, edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman, and published by Nine Arches Press. From the perspective of someone whose hearing and sight is not particularly impaired the event was a multi-media experience of poetry films, readings, and questions, supported by sign, subtitles, and the full text of poems. The editors described themselves for those with sight impairment, and in a large hall it felt like the most intimate and captivating experience.

However, it was only afterwards, when I went away, sat in a café and took a breath that it resonated with me more personally. I have a number of autoimmune conditions; Addison’s Disease, Underactive Thyroid, secondary hypopituitarism (causing low testosterone), low Vitamin D, along with asthma, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, periodic chronic pain, and depression. I am lucky, as I don’t have to rely on welfare, beyond NHS treatment and free prescriptions, and there are times when I am relatively healthy and able to exercise. So I have had no need to register as disabled and go through the horrendously cruel process that the austerity government has implemented in the past seven years.

I have recently been reading Lucia Perillo’s memoir, “I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing,” in which she talks about the pressure hope puts on us. She cites Emily Dickinson – “Hope is a strange invention –/A patent of the Heart.” Then later, “Hope is subtle glutton” who “feeds upon the fair”. Perillo sums it up beautifully with the line, “hope is ravenous like the gulls, and we are being eaten alive.” What the S&Ws’ event did was give me permission to feel confident to say I am disabled – even though in public I rarely present as such – without feeling it to be negative, and thus ‘giving up hope’. I’m not sure what this actually means for me in practice yet. But I do feel a sense of a weight lifted from my shoulders.


image by chris scott

I will no doubt feature more poems from the collection; we mustn’t forget that the majority of disabled people lack wealth and power. For now though here is the poem, The Department of Work and Pensions Assess a Jade Fish by Nuala Watt, which really stood out for me on the day.

Nuala Watt lives in Glasgow. She has cerebral palsy, a visual impairment and epilepsy. She recently completed a PhD from the University of Glasgow on the poetics of partial sight. Her poems have appeared in Magma and Gutter, as well as on BBC Radio 3 and in an anthology of new Scottish Poetry, ‘Be The First to Like This’ (Vagabond Voices, 2014). In 2015 she received a John Mather Charitable Trust bursary from the Scottish Poetry Library.



The Department of Work and Pensions Assesses a Jade Fish

Once, I held three thousand pale green years

Should I compare myself to the jade fish?

I am in a museum of difficulties.
I feature in a national catalogue.
Handled, but not with care.

Juliet. Echo.
One. Five. Zero.
Treble Two.
C. That’s me.

I’m a fraudster who walks.

Tick this box. Tick this box. Tick this box. Now.

How often do you lose consciousness?
Exactly how much of your life is a mess?

Can you make a cup of tea?

We cannot pay you.

The law says. The law says. The law says.
The phone squanders an hour.
This is because you have as much or more…

By the power of brown envelopes
I miss my class on poetics:
‘Imagine the Voices of Things’.

Lunar Poetry Podcast & Torriano Meeting House

This past Sunday (the 8th May), was the penultimate day of the English summer. The weight of people walking around London, was lightened by their lack of clothes and perspiration. We are now descending into autumn, whilst Scotland still basks in the mid-20s. But I spent much of Sunday indoors, preparing and fretting over that evening’s events in Kentish Town.

The first was a conversation with David Turner and Lizzy of Lunar Poetry Podcasts. David, in little over a year has carried out 75 interviews with people here in the UK poetry world. It is a great endeavour, and one I hope gains a lot of interest. We spoke of course about Proletarian Poetry, but also issues relating to class more generally, poetry genres and readers, and valuing poets (i.e. with £). Have a listen, and try to check out some of the other interviews.

FullSizeRender (1)Then, I was very proud to be part of the long tradition by hosting the Sunday poetry reading at the Torriano Meeting House. The Torriano has been going for many years; in fact, my mother-in-law who came along on the night, used to go there more than twenty years ago. I was so pleased to have Anna Robinson and Tim Wells as the guest readers, along with some great open mics from Grim Chip and Nadia Drews, and a short set from myself. So although it was one of the hottest days of the year, which I didn’t see much of, it was well worth the effort. Onwards (with a brolly!).

Proletarian Poetry at the Poetry Library

IMG_0279On Wednesday 6th April, Proletarian Poetry took over the Poetry Library as part of their Special Editions series. With the poets, Mona Arshi, Rishi Dastidar, Fran Lock, Clare Pollard, Richard Skinner, and Laila Sumpton, this was always going to attract a full house. For those unfortunate enough to miss the event, there is a link to a recording of all six poets readings below, and introductions from myself (I have included in the latter the time in the recording the poet started reading and a link to the original poem featured on the site). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The link to the whole recording of the evening is here: https://soundcloud.com/the-poetry-library/proletarian-poetry

Proletarian Poetry at the Poetry Library

Thank you everybody for coming this evening and to the library staff who have been so helpful in setting up the event. (more…)