The Poetics of Support Work

As I work slowly on my new poetry collection ‘Sensory’, which aims to explore my experience as a care and support worker over the last decade, I have been trying to write more openly about that other side to my working life. In December last year I wrote this piece for the Morning Star exploring the poetics of support work. There’s a link to the actual article here, but I’ve also included the text below along with some of my favourite photos of support work-in-action (used with parental permission). Big love to everyone at the coal face of social care, staff, service users and families. Things are so hard right now as we face cut after cut to the vital funds we need to do the work we do together, but I SEE YOU. We are all working so hard to keep our heads above water, and I hope and pray everyday that things will change soon. xxx

 

The Poetics of Support Work

Care work is rarely poeticized. It is often perceived as drab, underqualified and underfunded. Of course, it can be all of those things. But it can also be a secret universe of otherworldly interactions – of wonder, achievement and triumph. It is a journey in which learning and discovery are a constant, for both worker and client.

I am a support worker, working mainly for children with learning disabilities. I have been doing this work for over a decade. I am also a poet, working on a collection of poems exploring the support worker experience, sensory interaction, and the incredibly complex relationship between support worker and client. In the process of working on these poems, I discovered such a deficit in the celebration of the intricacy, tenderness and creativity of our sector. There is not much precedence for writing about the support experience in a poetic way, which is surprising because it can be cosmic, surreal, visceral and tender – all ingredients that I look for in my favourite poetry!

Writing about social care experiences is a delicate process, because confidentiality is paramount. As support workers, we are supporting another human with their private life, so many of the particulars are inappropriate to share publicly. I am finding creative ways to explore the poetry, magic, and sensory wonder of my experience as a support worker, without revealing any exposing information about the people whom I have supported over the years.

Every day, we are asking our clients to trust us implicitly – to support them properly, to keep them safe, to respect their privacy, their homes, their bodies. And when we are trusted, when we are truly supporting someone to access the life they want to live, it is alchemic.

Sally Jenkinson - support work action shot3

Mega professional home support action shot with beautiful R, who I had the privilege to support a few years ago.

And there is love, make no mistake. We don’t call it love because we are performing a supportive service, a job, and to say love is inappropriate. And because it is not the kind of love we are taught about in books and films and pop songs. It is not Agape or Eros or Storge. Philia is closest, but still not exactly right.

But just because there is no appropriate word for it, does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Love keeps us striving to provide a good service – despite bad backs, no sick pay, zero hours contracts, minimum wage, and being able to earn a better salary in any supermarket than by delivering this complex and skilled care. Love keeps us learning and arming ourselves to be almost-nurses, almost-teachers, almost-social workers, and almost-PTs, when our job demands it. Because of course, all these ‘higher level’ service providers are also desperately underfunded and in short supply, so the overspill of responsibility inevitably trickles down to the people who are there every day, providing the day-to-day care. The support workers.

Are we underpaid and undertrained? Undoubtedly. Is there nowhere near enough funding and resources to provide our clients with the quality of service and life that they deserve? Yes. Yet it is anything but miserable work. It is humans, in difficult circumstances, striving to communicate, to understand each other, and bring each other peace and light. We are out here – client and carer – working hard to make it work, every day.

Sally Jenkinson - support work action shot.jpg

There is a problem with media representation in our sector. People with disabilities are often portrayed in films as being defined by the misery of their disability. Disabled characters are often played by able-bodied or neurotypical actors. Support workers are either not portrayed at all, or we only reach the media in a news scandals about poor care or mistakes being made.

I would never presume to write about the experience of a person with learning disabilities from their perspective. But the relationships between the people being supported and the support workers, the ground we cover together, the sensory explorations and communication successes (and failures) that we encounter as a team, I know something of those.

The narrative of people with learning (or indeed physical) disabilities must be shifted. I see this happening, slowly. I see artists with LD telling their own unique and complex stories in creative and original ways, in organisations as diverse as Misfits Theatre Company in Bristol and the incredible Stopgap Dance Company, who I was lucky enough to see perform recently.

The narrative of support work as unskilled and unimportant must change too. I long to our sector championed as complex and proficient, and our work funded to pioneer new and creative ways of supporting our clients’ needs and desires and passions.

The poetry in my line of work is in the collaboration between carer and client – the trust, the communication, and the hard-fought, unsung relationships that we work so hard to build together. Those relationships deserve to be celebrated.

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‘Boys’ review // BBC show // news

REVIEW

This week I was thrilled to receive a copy of the September issue of the very beautiful Doncopolitan magazine, with a lovely review of my recent poetry collection ‘Boys’ by Ian Parks, a poet who I very much admire.

doncopolitan-review-boys-sept-16-pg-1doncopolitan-review-boys-sept-16

BBC SHOW

At the end of last month, I also wrote and performed a commission for BBC South West as part of their Massive Attack Re-interpreted show at The Cube in Bristol. It was all a bit of a rush to meet the deadline, so I wouldn’t say its a piece that stands up to much scrutiny (!) but I very much enjoyed writing something for such a big occassion and of course I love any chance to celebrate Bristol’s cultural history. You can listen HERE to my piece and to the whole show, which included brilliant artists such as ThisisDA, Kayla Paynter and Stephanie Kempson.

NEWS

This Sunday (18th September) I’m running a poetry workshop for 8 – 11 year olds for Hurst Festival, in the very cool setting of Holy Trinity Church, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, BN6 9TY, surrounded by the new installed Reflections art exhibition. If you know a small person that might like to come along, tickets and details are HERE!

In a few weeks on Monday 26th September I’m performing BLAHBLAHBLAH at The Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol with Soweto Kinch and Toby Campion. They are both artists who I admire ALOT so I think it will be a great show, I am also planning to perform some extracts FOR THE FIRST TIME from the piece I was working on during my residency at Skriduklaustur, Iceland earlier this year. AAAAAGH.

A really nice review!

I don’t think there’s a particularly strong tradition of reviewers at live poetry events really, so I don’t get that many reviews, good or bad, of my readings. So as you can imagine I was pleased as punch to read this, about my gig in Canterbury at the end of September, from publisher / reviewer Whisky and Beards:

‘Normally, when I don’t have much to say about a headliner, it’s because I don’t have many nice things to say, or I’m trying to kill a high word count, but this is the first time I can recall it being so wildly the opposite. Sally’s work is riveting and enthralling, equal parts surreal and identifiable, in some way I’m upset I couldn’t take more notes, but I wouldn’t have missed any second of her performance for the world.’

Full write up here: http://whiskyandbeards.co.uk/2015/10/08/gulbslam-the-gulbenkian-300915/

I’m performing in Cambridge, Sheffield and Poole in the next month or so. Details in the post below or under the ‘gigs’ tab, please come along if you’re based near one of those towns!

Reviews for Folly at The Adelaide Fringe.

I’m gathering these reviews all in one place, place partly for posterity and partly so I can link to them all at once. We’re half way through our fringe run, so if you’re an Adelaidian make sure to catch Folly at one of the following dates, before we have to fly back to rainy old England!

Wed 26th February – Grace Emily Hotel (8pm)
Thurs 27th February – The Deli (9pm)
Sat 1st March – The Deli (9pm)
Sun 2nd March – The Deli (9pm)
Tues 4th March – Grace Emily Hotel (8pm)

Here’s what the rags said…

RIP IT UP MAGAZINE
http://www.ripitup.com.au/lifestyle/article/folly-a-miserable-yorkshire-poetry-musical

‘In this hour-long prose poem set to music, English poet Sally Jenkinson and Australian guitarist Nuala Honan combine their considerable talents to take the audience on a trip of escape and self-discovery to the first world.

As the great adventure unfolds, this true-life recounting of a sometimes chaotic search for greener grass provides contemplative, funny and stirring moments.

Jenkinson’s words offer many lyrical highlights, painting some appealing and vivid images along the way. It would probably work in isolation as a spoken word piece but the addition of the musical score augments the poetry and makes this a performance that audiences of all types will enjoy. Honan’s inspired playing ranges from the lightest of touches to driving rhythms that match the vocals for power. It’s also quite lovely to look at; inexplicably visually lush.

All up, Folly provides a delightful night out for the eyes, ears and mind.’

ON DIT MAGAZINE
http://www.lifeoncampus.org.au/blogs/Entry.aspx?EID=13

Review: Folly – A Miserable Yorkshire Poetry Musical

Words: Daisy Freeburn

‘In the little back room in the Grace Emily, in the corner of a small stage, stood a bare tree lit with warm light. It was a small show – only about 20 seats. When the two performers, Sally Jenkinson and Nuala Honan, got up on stage, they could see every single one of our faces. I love this, the feeling of knowing the performers somehow.

Nuala’s gentle acoustic guitar set the mood of the play as a down-to-earth experience, with just the soft strumming of the guitar and Sally’s poetry being the only sounds. With each new part of the story, a token of sorts would be hung on the tree, gathering in the end to be a symbol of the show as a whole.

Toy aeroplanes, beer bottles, ferns, wooden beads accumulated as Sally told tales of travels throughout South-East Asia. At times, I was befuddled by whether she was mocking the typical white travellers who go overseas to poorer countries to make themselves feel good, or whether she was in the same boat as them. Nevertheless, her gorgeous prose and storytelling, paired with Nuala’s music, moved me. Especially the bit about aeroplanes. I, like Sally, hate aeroplanes.

I was confused about what they were trying to say to us in certain parts of the story. However, the overwhelming sense of homesickness and cyclone-in-your-mind feelings while travelling, conveyed so strongly through the show, is what I felt as I watched. With that, I could empathise.

See it for the beauty of words and the feeling of music. You might get something completely different out of it than I did. But that’s what’s so good about poetry and music.’

KRYZTOFF MAGAZINE
http://www.kryztoff.com/RAW/?p=8001

FRINGE – Folly – 4K
by rupert hogan turner

‘Folly is a forlorn tale of travel, lucid poetry describing the trials and tribulations of being a first world traveller in the second and third worlds. The show has the feel of picking up a travel journal half way through and peering deeply into another travellers mind. The performance was warm and cosy, the performers genuine and enthralling. There is a visceral sense of authenticity which draws the listeners further into the world being described to them.
The show is a culmination of the spoken word poetry of Sally Jenkinson and the soft blues guitar of Nuala Honan. Emotions run wild as the audience follows Jenkinson’s tale of traversing foreign shores. Jenkinson’s soft voice and beautiful accent heightened the audience’s attentions. Jenkinson speaks with emotion but at points seems erratic and anxious. The anxiety was clearly a portion of the role but at times seemed overdone.
Honan’s exemplary voice and melodies coupled Jenkinson’s emotive phrases. Her adroit strumming and resonant voice captured the emotions of Jenkinson’s spoken words. Honan’s tunes harmonised with Jenkinson’s poetry to create a moving atmosphere.
The soothing guitar and soft spoken words inspired a diverse range of poignant emotions; from the erratic unease of boarding the initial flight to the light-hearted humour and intense affection of a holiday romance.
The show accurately portrays the diverse array of emotions one is subject to when travelling, particularly when travelling alone. The language is eloquent and the delivery is affecting. The show leaves you feeling calm, almost meditative, but also with a prominent desire to travel. Anyone who has travelled the world can relate to the apprehension and uncertainty; to be home among the places you recognise and the people you love.’

Kryztoff Rating 4K

Tags: 2014, Fringe, Homesick Productions, Music, Poetry

TALK FRINGE REVIEWS
http://www.adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/folly-a-miserable-yorkshire-poetry-musical/66e23d1c-a16a-4e58-8785-b3ff6a70e494

‘A terrific show with a perhaps misleading by-line. This is miserableness in the tradition of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo). It is a funny and moving show the expertly mixes musical and poetic storytelling. The poetry, from Sally Jenkinson, a Yorkshire wordsmith with an endearingly idiosyncratic style, riffs on the impulse to flee and find ourselves and adventure in exotic locals, and our confused and bemused attempts to explain why we did it and what we learnt. Behind and around it is an impressive and powerful soundscape from Nuala Honan, a dynamo solo artist in her own right. With all the taught energy of a caged musical lioness her harmonies, rhythms and percussions provide an atmospheric backing that conveys all the barely contained emotions of the jilted lover, the lost soul, the wondrous traveller, the jaded backpacker’s despair and the explosive joy of a new resolution. Check it out.’

An Award. A N. A W A R D!

Here we are. This is wierd and awesome. I have been nominated for a Poetry Can South West Poetry Award. I’m very excited. The other nominees are my very good friend (and brilliant poet) Jonny Fluffypunk, and also a poet that I admire and respect so very much, Alice Oswald. So I cannot possibly win, because they are both amazing. But I am very honoured to be considered. Awards are wierd, but exciting.

http://www.poetrycan.co.uk/18-news-frontpage/360-forward-2013-shortlist.html