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Turning the Tables / 18 November 2014

Found poetry is the literary equivalent of collage. It takes pre-existing materials, generally ones which would not be seen to possess artistic merit, and uses the techniques of poetry to create fresh new works from apparently unpromising sources.

I have always enjoyed this process. In my student days I used to improvise live readings from the telephone directory. (Younger readers: ask your grandparents what that was.)  That was partly about satirising the pomposity of a certain style of poetry reading, all hushed voices and reverence. But it was also straight enjoyment in the way that one could make something interesting out of quite randomly chosen material.

One feature of this book that will be new to a lot of people who are familiar with my work is a group of found poems drawn from NHS sources - a project which documents the range of written materials I encounter in my roles as disabled person and as carer for another disabled person.  

This idea attracted me because of the way it reverses the power balance. The process takes materials that are about us, materials that are not open to discussion, turns the tables, and makes them the subject of an artistic enquiry. To take ownership of those words is a radical act.

Such poems take the words and add a different voice, that of the poet who is shaping them. The fact that the eyebrow being implicitly raised belongs to a disabled person gives strong extra meaning.

Interestingly, I’ve found that one of the results of this is that the poems are well suited to live reading. This is particularly the case if I am reading to an audience of disabled people.

One of the poems, ‘Suprapubic Catheterisation’ adapts a passage about how a catheter balloon, during insertion, may become passed down the urethra and then inflates outside the body.  (Final stanza: ‘Obviously,/if this occurs,/you need to start again.’)

When this happened to some District Nurses attending my partner, they completely freaked. I then had the immense pleasure of being able to say ‘Let me explain; I’ve written a poem about this’.  

Not that the nurses paid any attention to a mere carer; they called an ambulance instead, and we had to spend most of Christmas Eve in A & E.  Which fact goes a long way to explaining what motivates me in creating these poems.

In my next post I shall discuss what features make NHS materials a particularly productive source for found poems.

Keywords: barriers,carers,collage,disabled carers,found poetry,poetry,suprapubic catheterisation