In 2023, Jamie Field won the Best Single Poem category of the inaugural Disabled Poets Prize with his poem ‘How To Sign Playground’. In this interview with Spread the Word’s Laura Kenwright, Jamie shares his inspirations, what drew him to poetry and what’s next for his writing.
When did you start writing poetry and what drew you to it?
I started writing poetry at the age of 27, so pretty late in the game. Before that I was too busy being a mediocre journalist. Due to my upbringing it just never seemed an option, I guess it was the way I was taught it at school, which meant it never really appealed to me.
My first poem I wrote by accident. I was bored and just began playing with words it’s only after I stopped writing I realised I wrote a poem. It was in quatrains and had a rhyme scheme. I showed it to a friend and instantly felt validated. From that day on I’ve been addicted to verse.
Poetry appeals to me I think because being a deaf, autistic person, poetry is the closest way I have found to express myself authentically, if that makes sense. I don’t think in grammatically correct sentences, sometimes I struggle to express myself orally, and moreover there are emotions and experiences I just cannot say within the strait jacket of prose. I would paint if I had the eye.
Can you tell us about the development of your poetry – when did you first feel you were a poet and where did your poetry go from there?
In regards to development, I’ve learnt to be patient and observant. A lot of writing for me is a waiting game, and as long as I’m practicing the art of paying attention (being present) a poem always comes. I have learned to trust the music in my broken ear, it always sets me right.
I rarely feel like a poet so I never really use the term, even when I win an award like the Disabled Poets Prize. My own flavour of poetics is based on the idea that unless you’re in a permanent sate of imposter syndrome you’re doing it wrong.
Can you tell us about the creation of your award-winning poem?
‘How to Sign Playground’ is my most personal poem to date. During the first Lockdown I set myself the task of writing a BSL (British Sign Language) poem in all the conventional poetic forms such as sestina, villanelle etc. ‘How to Sign…’ began as an acrostic (a poem where a combination of certain words spells out a word).
During the planning stages I made a number of arbitrary rules to what goes in the stanza. I do this occasionally to have a good enough chance the poem evolves naturally. It also stops me from overthinking and as a result jeopardise the poem by over-egging.
By the fourth stanza I began to notice common themes of disability and childhood trauma, which help to map out the second half.
After in the editing phase I found the acrostic had served it’s purpose so I took it away, which I think adds to degree of incommunicability, which relates nicely to the deaf experience.
Which poets do you admire most and what do you value particularly in their work?
My all-time favourite poets are poetic stylists, like John Berryman and the Canadian Al Purdy. The person I enjoy reading the most is the master of the long line, CK Williams. He touches on themes of authenticity and art that interest me greatly.
Contemporary poets would be Raymond Antrobus and Illya Kaminsky for their deaf poetics, and Emily Berry because she’s just brilliant. Overall, I tend to favour poets who are unique and brave. Who write to test the bounds of language and don’t follow a checklist.
What’s next for you and your poetry?
I’m looking to publish my first pamphlet. There are a number of poems especially from my MA that I would love to see collected, and maybe to help get over my fear of public speaking, a little reading tour. I would love the opportunity to meet more poets, especially disabled poets.
What advice would you give to disabled poets just starting out?
Firstly, the most true and tested advice is to read and read. Not necessarily poetry and probably not all the time, but whatever interests you, wherever fiction, philosophy, manga etc. It’s all a resource and will feed into poetry in surprising ways.
Secondly, as in life you’re not constrained by your disability. You have the freedom to write about anything and everything. Yes, by osmosis the most personal and enriching work will probably be about your condition, it’s the nature of inspiration, but it doesn’t mean you can’t write about other things. There’s power in merely describing a sunset.
What would you say to anyone considering entering the Disabled Poets Prize 2024?
The Disabled Poets Prize is a fantastic opportunity for those of us who feel marginalised in the literary community. We can only force change if we show ourselves equal to those who set the discourse.
With poems published in Banshee, Abriged, Magma and elsewhere, Jamie Field is a Poetry Ireland Introductions recipient 2021 and the winner of the Disabled Poets Prize 2023. He has a MA in Poetry from Queen’s University, Belfast. He is originally from Pontefract, West Yorkshire. He is deaf.
The Disabled Poets Prize 2024 will open later in the year. You can listen to an interview, or read the transcript, with Katherine Moss, winner of the Disabled Poets Prize 2023 Best Unpublished Pamphlet category here.