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Educating young people who are blind or vision impaired

Students receive visit from Slam Poets for National Poetry Day

In celebration of National Poetry Day, Dr Jack McGowen and Ruth Stacey from the University of Worcester Creative Writing Department, paid NCW students a visit on Friday 8 October. 

Both Jack and Ruth have been writing for a number of years spanning across various writing forms and genres. Students were delighted to sit and listen to poems, as well as having a go at writing their own. 

Sixth Form student Amy took the opportunity to interview the creative writers to find out why they enjoy writing, poetry and their influences. 

Why did you choose to get into the area of writing that you are in?

Jack: “I believe that a writer can write anything, particularly these days for example. I also like to write video game narratives but for performance poetry I’ve found that this was the most enjoyable form of writing.”

Ruth: “I’ve always loved books and poetry, initially writing poetry for myself. I’ve always wanted to write particularly within the realm of historical and fantasy novels; but as I’ve gotten older I’ve moved into poetry as this was a quicker way of getting something written. It was simple and could be written quickly.”

Have you always been into poetry?

Ruth: “I’ve always felt like I was a poet. I love writing and reading it, and being able to write my own poems is my way of trying to get into that area.

Jack: “I’ve also always loved poetry much like Ruth, but from a lecturers perspective I get a huge amount of joy from hearing other peoples work, which is something I love about the poetry community.
We both feel that the poetry community is very supportive and a great way of creating something collaboratively.”

Do you prefer group or individual writing?

Jack: “We both feel that this is dependent on a number of variables like the mood you are in or the collaborators. Working as a team has its merits such as taking pressure off of yourself and not getting caught up in perfectionism.”

Ruth: “I’ve recently been spending time working on a book which has been an isolating experience, so I’ve been craving working with other people. I’ve been working on more collaborative pieces.”

What do you hope to achieve or aspire to with your works?

Ruth: “In the short term I’d like my new collection to be published as this one means a lot to me. The story is important as it has often been overlooked in history books. In the long term I’d like to get my novel published and to see lots of people consuming it and then turned into a film.”

Jack: “I’m not too concerned with winning awards or getting published, I feel the art in itself is enough. My aspiration is that other people will see works the same way I do.” 

How and where do you find inspiration?

Ruth: “I’m a great consumer of culture in any terms. I’m always curious and communicate with a lot of people so I don’t normally feel myself as being uninspired.”

Jack: “Much like Ruth, I think that a person can get inspiration from anywhere. We shouldn’t feel that being uninspired is a failure on your part as a writer. One thing that we teach at the University is that “absorbing, reading and thinking are just as important as writing.”

Are there any themes that you feel yourself gravitating towards naturally?

Jack: “I often write about myself and my experiences throughout life, for example the 90s which is the era in which I grew up.”

Ruth: “I often find myself writing about personal experiences but in a different way as I often write about historical figures who may have been overlooked. For example one of my poems is about Elizabeth Woodville and her sons, and when writing that I was reflecting on my own children and how I feel about them. I also find it interesting that each person can hear or read a poem and get something different from it.”

Jack: “We both feel that poetry is often about looking back on life experiences and reflecting to see if you can make sense of them.”

Is there anything you have learnt from the writing process?

Ruth: “I’ve learnt that it is ok to have obsessions! I’ve turned some of my biggest obsessions into pieces of writing – for example Anne Boleyn or music from when I was growing up and having the social maturity to realise and accept that.”

Jack: “Something like writing gives you a space not to feel so bad about missing opportunities throughout life.”

How would you go about adapting something like performance poetry so that it is accessible for a blind audience?

Jack: “There is a module at the University of Worcester called Slam Spoken Word and Performance Poetry which many vision impaired students have completed. The module focuses more on voice and feeling, rather than what something looks like on a page or on the stage. At the heart of it, poetry is all about sharing pieces verbally.”

Ruth: “Much of my research is about visual connection – this allows for something called Ekphrasis, which is about describing a piece of visual art and people write a piece around that, another way of doing this is by playing a piece of music which would get the same level of sensory reaction.
We both believe that there is always ways of adaption and inclusion.”

Did it feel any different visiting NCW rather than teaching at University?

“We both feel that NCW is a very welcoming and enthusiastic environment which does compare to some of the students at the University! So it was a was a nice change.”

Do you have any favourite works of yours?

Jack: “My favourite work is about the board game Cluedo which I won my slam with. The poem imagines which character in a game I would be.”

Ruth: “I find it quite hard to choose my favourite work as they all fit into different areas of speciality for me, but the Anne Boleyn poem got me into history.”

One piece of advice that both Ruth and Jack would give to anybody who wants to get into writing is to always carry something you can write things down on, as inspiration can come from anywhere!

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