Allan Sutherland reviews ‘An Earthworm called Girlfriend and Other Stories’ by writers and artists who attend Grace Eyre Foundation’s Active Lives programme in Hove.
I love this little book, a collection of stories and poetry by adults with learning difficulties. It’s full of imagination, with ideas such as an earthworm that dresses as a lizard (Alex Yetton’s title poem), an elephant outside Asda (Hala Exander’s ‘Big Elephant’) and a frog that is scared of sharks (Keir Dean’s ‘Doorham Road’). A rabbit attends an advocacy group in Betty Vincent’s ‘Rabbit at Speak Out’. Alex Yetton’s ‘Do Dragons Exist?’ informs us that yes they do, and, unexpectedly, they eat a lot of spaghetti.
There’s a lot about the everyday lives of learning disabled people, as in Juliet Senker’s ‘A story about Romeo and Juliet’ (‘Romeo goes to Juliet’s house for private time. Juliet cooks Romeo’s dinner.’ Says it all really.) or Hugh McCarry’s ‘A trip to the Royal Pavilion’. Lauretta Mayo’s ‘I like to Learn French Bonjour’ takes us inside the world of someone with limited communication, who is learning Makaton. James Graham’s ‘What makes a crunching sound’ describes a day filed with enjoyment of simple pleasures: dunking a biscuit, sitting at the table, watching the news, going for a walk in the park as winter ends and having tea and cake in the café.
There is fantasy here too, as in The Walsingham Creative Writing Group’s ‘The Magic Bird’, an eventful magical adventure, which subsequently inspired a puppet show. I loved the character names here: the violinist Lesham Cornham, the tall, thin lady Jaffa Cakehole and the magic clown William Yellow Tummy.
Other poems are more meditative and observational, including Susan Street’s delightful ‘Bird on my Hand’ and Maureen Hart’s ‘Summer Holidays’, a sun-filled evocation of the pleasures of summer.
There are lots of good short poems too, including haiku and poems created as a group. Juliet Senker’s limericks are so dry and understated they reminded me of Stevie Smith. (‘There was a man called Ted/who had a very red head/He went to bed.’)
I especially liked Jonny Schachter’s ‘My Dad’, which shows a mature understanding of the difficulties of living with a complex man (‘I love my dad/He was the best pal I had/ But he could be scary’). As it progresses, one gets a real sense that the writer has looked back on difficult events and made sense of them.
But there is little here that’s dark, no fashionable angst. The Grace Eyre users are evidently a pretty optimistic lot, with a sunny view of the world, who use creative writing as a way to explore what is pleasant in life. Good for them, I say.
Most of this work comes from a monthly creative writing session funded by Awards 4 All with Dao editor Colin Hambrook. The pamphlet is available for a voluntary contribution. To receive a copy please contact Dao via email@example.com
The poetry and other work can be found elsewhere on DAO. Please click on this link to go to Dao's projects page where you will find links to poetry, short story and blog writing as well as a gallery from the Grace Eyre artists group.