|Most people don’t realise that their natural speech moves with interesting rhythms and uses poetic imagery and phrases. I work with people in all sorts of settings, talking to them and making detailed notes, and add just enough words of my own to shape what they have said into poems. I reckon the person I am working with contributes, on average, 85% of the finished piece; and I try to retain the original voice, with its own cadences and spikiness. Frequently people ask that their poems should be rhyming (one asked for iambic pentameter!) and I try to meet these requests.The results can sometimes be astonishing. Some people catch the bug and start writing themselves. For others, it’s like being given a bunch of flowers by a stranger – spontaneously, unexpectedly, a little work of art – their own – has been presented to them. It brightens their day, week, month, perhaps; they will talk about it for a long time afterwards.
Projects and events where I have used this technique include:
• Writer in Residence with Oncology patients and carers, Cheltenham Hospital, as part of a project with the cancer charity FOCUS, 2008-2014.
• Wrote poems and prose pieces based on experiences of the Gloucestershire floods (2007), described by local people, for Cheltenham Literature Festival’s Ten Days project. The pieces were displayed at the Literature Festival and a selection broadcast on Radio Gloucestershire.
• For Cheltenham Literature Festival:
I have been commissioned as a railway poet (2002), poet in shoe shops (2003), litter poet (2004), poet in laundrettes (2005), betting shop poet (2006) and poet in changing rooms (2007).
• Writer in Residence with Oncology Outpatients, Cheltenham Hospital, as part of the Gloucestershire Art-Lift arts-in-health project, 2007.
• Writer in Residence for older people in association with Ledbury Poetry Festival, 2006-7.
• Writer in residence for Age Concern intergenerational project, May – October 2005, working with three age groups, and culminating in a performance at Cheltenham Literature Festival.
• Poet with Cheltenham Flats project, spring 2005; cross-disciplinary project with a visual artist and a new media artist.
• Writer in Residence, Age Concern Gloucestershire, February – October 2004, working with older people, and culminating in readings at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
• Resident poet working in local hospitals, Cheltenham Literature Festival outreach programme, 2002.