Writer’s university experiment will capture voices in poetry


A disabled writer is to produce a series of experimental poems that aim to capture the lives and voices of disabled people, during a nine-month stint as a university department’s artist-in-residence.

Allan Sutherland, a writer and performance poet and a leading figure in the disability arts movement, is the first artist-in-residence to be attached to an academic department at Brunel University in west London.

During his residency at the university’s Centre for Citizen Participation (CCP), Sutherland will interview disabled people who have worked with the centre and will produce at least four sets of “transcription poems” based on their life stories.

He has developed the idea of transcription poems through commissions from the disability arts website Disability Arts Online.

His first two cycles of transcription poems were based on interviews with two prominent disabled artists – Paddy Masefield and Nancy Willis – and capture their voices as they tell him their life stories.

Sutherland said: “We live in a society where disabled people get talked about but do not get listened to very much.

“All my life my work has been about making heard the voices of disabled people, and this is a further way of doing that.

“When you start getting the real stories of disabled people’s lives, you hear about what it means to be disabled and what it means to receive discrimination in the most direct way.

“Our impairments may be unrelated but our oppression isn’t. It’s a very radicalising thing to do to know about what’s happening to other disabled people.”

CCP has an international reputation for research focused on the involvement of service-users in improving policy and practice.

Professor Peter Beresford, CCP’s director, said Sutherland’s residency and work on transcription poems were “a real breakthrough for research and learning”.

He said: “I think he really has hit on something. The problem is that for many of the people we connect with, the conventional forms of research…are so narrow and excluding.

“It’s about trying to stop assuming that if you are communicating there are only some very narrow ways of doing it.”

He said the centre hoped to discuss Sutherland’s work as part of a course module on research methods.

The residency is funded by a Leverhulme Trust scheme designed to bring artists into research and study environments.

To read Allan Sutherland’s two previous sets of transcription poems, visit:  www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk

14 January 2010


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