In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of choosing a poem with a tangible subject matter. This is particularly important for the Edinburgh Headway Group, many of whom, as a result of their brain injury, find abstract concepts inaccessible. Poetry – relied upon by many non-disabled writers as a vehicle for ideas and emotions which prose cannot express – loses its power when the reader/writer is no longer able to endow it.
As an Expressive Writing Practitioner, part of my job is to find new pathways to creativity and enjoyment. This includes selecting the right poems as prompts (such as McCabe’s “Seagull“), but it also involves taking the participants’ physical needs into account. Most group members write with the support of a carer, staff member or volunteer, who may simply act as a scribe, or may provide additional prompting throughout the writing time. This support is a very important part of the group at Headway; it engenders beneficial relationships and opportunities for staff and volunteers to make connections with members of the group. However, in order to feel ownership of their writing, and an associated sense of achievement, it is also important that the group members write as autonomously as possible.
This week – with both tangibility and autonomy in mind – I introduced the ‘building blocks’ for the members’ poems in the form of pebbles, collected from a local beach.
Each member was given around 10 stones, each with a word on either side – a selection which felt wide enough for variety and originality, but bounded enough to be approachable. In a literal sense, the pebbles made words tangible – not sounds, or marks on a page, but objects which could be held, turned over and moved around. Creativity came with choice, which the group members embraced; selecting, rejecting and rearranging the stones into poetic lines.
This exercise also gave the group members complete control; those who are unable to speak, those who do not have the dexterity to write with a pen, and those who struggle with concentration, were able to take part independently. For some, who began the session with apprehension and unease, this provided a significant confidence boost.
As an Expressive Writing Practitioner, I can often be heard declaring that “anyone can write”. I do believe that this is true, but I think it should be said with care. If poetry is for everyone, then we must take on the responsibility to expand the means, and the meaning, of writing a poem.