This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

Time without pressure / 19 January 2012

I'd like to start my blog slowly. This is difficult for me. I have always tended to drive myself forward. But my poetry was first incubated in a time of illness. I was forced within. I learned and relearned the discipline of slowness. I believe that poetry needs time without pressure. I need to notice extra times and hidden places. These are where my poetry grows. I listen to nature: a sunbathing ladybird on a January wall. I listen to my body and its messages. I wait with quiet intention and its little noises. It is difficult in our times to be slowed down enough to notice. It's like listening for birdsong beside the motorway.

I am uncomfortable with my perfectionist nature, but it is a useful discomfort. Deep down, I seek substance not style. Because being real is more important than poetry. Poetry with a big P is an empty plate carried by a waiter with a neat white coat and no face. My self in my body waiting to be turned inside out is more important than Poetry. I seek danger and the overturned stomach. I seek substance not style.

It's hard to define what substance is. When it is there it is obvious: I feel it in my body. I want my audience to feel it too. Words can carry presence. They can carry the intention that made them. This can't be faked, or achieved by striving. Poetry is a container to hold presence and love – whatever you have. Wonky containers can hold love. When I find myself trying too hard, I tell myself: take the time to grow real. In the meantime, I keep writing.

I pick up my pen, and an image comes like a summer's day. I try not to idolise or overextend an image. Sometimes I bury the sun and work in the dark. Extended metaphors are fashionable. I don't think one metaphor should lead a poem. I believe in finding then following a feeling or intention. Imagery can be a place to hide. Original metaphors are beautiful and clever, but they can blind you to the fact you are writing on the surface of things. Better to wait until directness comes. What is the big unfashionable question? What is making me feel ashamed? I follow that shame and let it lead me to the truth. Is there a knot of ambivalence? Look at it, trace it in words. I aim to let my imagery follow my intention. Of course I do not always succeed. Imagery is so seductive. Half-rhymes come along to rock me and I often let them stay.

I no longer see my poems as separate from one another. In compiling my first collection, I am trying to gather my different voices and lay them side by side. Some poems spring apart. Sometimes I need to write a bridging poem to bind them. A few poems will always be exiles, lone poems from extraordinary places.  I seek to rescue subtle states of mind and make a home for them. I seek a series of ambivalences, celebrations, beauties and wistfulnesses. I seek to grow real.

But as I start out as a New Voice, will I be able to notice - let alone write about - what is real in other people's art? It feels like tapping my fingernail against a glass, and listening for the note it makes. What comes from the heart reaches the heart, as the saying goes. But is this always true?  Which languages might I need to learn, which prejudices might I need to overcome, in order to really listen?