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ANALYSING THE DISTINCTIVE VOICE
Before my voice disappeared
like a rabbit up a sleeve
I wanted to be a singer
in the Folies Bergère.
The doctor is a kind man
he keeps me warm,
he feeds me seed cake
and Assam tea.
But sometimes he makes me crawl.
Pick up the crumbs
my little goose.
At night I lie beside him
more silent than a blade of grass.
I allow his cold fingertips
to circle my heart.
Tomorrow, he says,
I must rehearse for the show
in the auditorium of the Saltpêtrière.
The doctors will love me.
He has made me a hat
of peacock feathers.
He has taught me to bark.
When he stares into my eyes
he can make me do anything
But he can’t make me sing.
That poem, written while studying for an MA in Creative Writing in Chichester, was an early attempt to write in another person’s voice. It became the title for my first small published collection.
The person in question was Blanche Wittman, a patient of Jean-Martin Charcot, the first of the great European theorists of hysteria. Blanche was among the main attractions at Charcot’s frequently staged events for members of his neurological service at the Saltpetriere Hospital.
A reviewer in Magma observed: ‘[Charcot’s] domineering personality is vividly evoked in the poem. Although I find it hard to square the poem’s purely submissive image of Blanche with other accounts – of a bossy, capricious woman who was nicknamed the queen of the hysterics – the poem, like the collection, succeeds beautifully on its own terms’.
However, perhaps the reviewer had missed the nuances contained in the last lines ‘he can make me do anything, but he can’t make me sing.’ Blanche Wittman, even under the hypnotic spell of the doctor, possesses the ultimate power.
Other reviewers described my voice as ‘beguiling’, ‘distinctive’, ‘brave and new’, although the voice that spoke to me, my own voice, had rarely felt that way. Meanwhile, I came to realise that the voice in the poem was not really that of Blanche Wittman, but my own. I had unwittingly tapped into my own psyche. Poetry had helped me to create a voice from the tension which hovered between between desire and fear.
In contrast then, here’s a relatively new poem which taps into the more defiant scale of my spectrum Continue reading
Zones of Avoidance – A reading followed by Q & A
Thursday 24 September 2015
Dimbola Museum and Galleries
Freshwater, Isle of Wight, PO40 9QE
Maggie Sawkins will be launching her new collection, Zones of Avoidance, based on the live literature production that won last year’s Ted Hughes award, in Portsmouth on Saturday 28 March.
Ted Hughes award judge Denise Riley described Zones of Avoidance, which was directed by Mark C Hewitt, as “a challenging, painfully open account of a daughter’s addiction, yet it’s an account which also offers graceful good humour. Beautifully written and uncompromising, it’s a modern story that we felt the writer was compelled to tell; it acts as a vivid witness of harsh experiences which aren’t often described in poetry, and Maggie Sawkins’s illuminating descriptions will prove helpful for others to hear.”
In an interview with Write Out Loud last year, Maggie
said: “The story is very personal. I’d been gathering draft material on the subject over a period of 20 years. Much of it was in the form of diary entries and some was in the form of unsent letters to my grandson, who’s been estranged from my daughter since the age of three. My motivation was to keep a record for him – when someone close to you is gripped by addiction you’re always expecting the knock on the door. I could have written the story as a memoir and perhaps made a lot of money. However, reading back through the drafts, I realised that the ‘truth’ could be told in relatively few words. I think all of us have the one tale to tell and there are different ways of telling it. Writing in poetry enabled me to tease out the terrible beauty from what, in reality, has been a much darker story.”
Music with Bernard MacDonagh and Claire Ward
‘Multimedia live literature production Zones of Avoidance was written and performed by poet Maggie Sawkins and directed by Mark C Hewitt with film sequences from Abigail Norris. Colin Hambrook reviews a performance at the All Saints Centre, Lewes on 29 October.
Winner of the 2014 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, Zones of Avoidance is haunting, creating a resonance with my own life struggles. The words within Zones of Avoidance speak to the largely buried, impossible plight of thousands of families from all walks of life, up and down the country.’
Read the rest of the review here:
A Word Dance into the Void of Addiction – Maggie Sawkins
Maggie discusses how writing about her daughter’s dual diagnosis enabled her to reach a place of compassion and acceptance. Her live literature production, Zones of Avoidance, which won The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, is described as ‘beautifully written and uncompromising.’ Through poetry, letters and monologues, Maggie manages to juggle the imperative of honesty – how to tell an important story truthfully – and ‘avoidance’ – how bitter truths may be made bearable. The talk will be illustrated by short poem films from the production.
Lecture Theatre 1027 – Nightingale Building
14.50 – 15.50