“In illness words seem to possess a mystic quality. We grasp what is beyond their surface meaning, gather instinctively this, that, and the other – a sound, a colour, here a stress, there a pause – which the poet, knowing words to be meagre in comparison with ideas, has strewn about his page to evoke, when collected, a state of mind which neither words can express nor the reason explain.”
The passage from writer Virginia Woolf’s ‘On Being Ill’ can read as a manifesto for the caregiver’s creative writing process. As a former carer for my late mother, I had to capture moments of interrupted silence on the page. In my own work, gaps identified the unspoken subtexts of bodily experience. Silence was not something that I discussed with anyone but it was part of the carer’s narrative.
Carers UK says 6.5 million people provide unpaid care to friends and family members. The term “caregiving” includes a wide range of experiences and situations in personal and public spaces. My upcoming course is for poets who want to consider alternative ways of creating dialogue between carer and the person who is cared for. There will be a chance to focus on the act of witnessing. For one of the assignments, poets will explore the technique of “mirroring” to generate poetic responses in the role of caregiving. This approach situates the reader within the framework of the poem. And we will draw on work by Malika Booker, Daniel Sluman and others, who use the lyric form to expand on the recovery of speech.
‘Of Glass’, by Denise Saul
A nurse sat on the cushion which I thought was unnecessary because it was not her seat and I wondered if her feet perched on leg-rests disturbed me because she could walk. I raced a recliner in a local park. She worked in a clinic but had never pushed one around London which saddened me. I did not need imagination but the nurse said that she had imagination and could see herself sitting in one position as the cushion was comfortable. She knew about wheelchairs. Her aunt sat in one for three years. “They think that they’re made of glass. Too afraid to lean forward.” I watched her put on her sandals and stand up. “Have you ever watched how she sits?” she asked. “Have you ever taken her to the cinema? Now, that’s an interesting place.”
Give voice to the unspoken poetry of caregiving with Denise Saul on In the Same House: Poetry of Caregiving. Call 0207 582 1679 or book online.