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.

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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.

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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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On zines, poetry, and making things – Happy National Poetry Day!

Hello! Its National Poetry Day tomorrow, and to mark the day I’ve made a new zine of poems.

If the divide is in you, then the divine is in all of us

As you can see, its called ‘If the divine is in you, then the divine is in all of us’ (a title I borrowed from something I heard a brilliant woman say in a yoga class), and although it is scrappy and scruffy and wonky, I’m really really pleased with how it came out.

 

In June 2017 I was lucky enough to go on a trip to New York (upstate and city) for a month. I looked after their super cool kid while they made a record. It was a great adventure. A lot of the poems are not actually about that trip, but what links them all together is that I wrote them or started writing them while we were away. Travelling is a good time to write, I think, because you’re existing in a kind of alternate reality from your usual life.

I made the poems into a zine because:

  • They are collected thoughts and fragments for the most part, rather than fully realised poems, so I wanted them to live all together in one time capsule (and that’s ok).
  • I applied for A LOT of courses and grants and fellowships and publications this year, and didn’t get any of them! Which did start to make me feel a bit negative about writing, but then I remembered ‘Hey! Writing isn’t about getting prizes! It’s about trying to work things out, hooray!’ So, I made this zine so I could enjoy every aspect of the making process again, pressure free. I enjoyed to scribbling and writing and editing the poems, but I also enjoyed the cutting and sticking and photocopying and stapling. Touching the paper. My hands touched every one of the pages. It was fun! The library in my little town lent me a long-armed stapler when I went in to use the photocopier. Making a zine is a good conversation starter.
  • Before the world of everythingisontheinternet, I got a lot of my music and arts news, and insights into the thoughts and opinions of my artistic peers, from zines. They were bought, sold, swapped and handed around, and I loved the practice and reading something made directly by someone else, of feeling part of a community of makers, and more broadly – the warmth and relief of hearing someone else’s thoughts, worries, ideas communicated so openly and honestly, and not feeling alone.

A Different ForestIt was a great way to bond with my own writing process again. I was blissfully removed from any worries about where I would submit the poems, who might read them, where and why they might be judged. It felt really magical to sit at my kitchen table with the radio on and write and cut and stick my observations and passions and worries about the world into a little homemade booklet. It made the disappointments of being turned down for courses and grants and residencies etc feel small by comparison, because it was a tangible reminder that what I really want to do is write and create art, and say things that I think are important. Whilst I will always strive to improve myself and my career as a writer and artist by applying to be part of things, to be funded and expand my possibilities, it isn’t everything. Writing is everything, making is everything. Translating the love and turmoil and panic and hope of your insides into something tangible and readable for anyone who wants and needs to share in it with you – that’s the alchemy.

Extracts

Hey, you should make a zine too! And if you do, send a copy to me please.

If you want a copy of my zine ‘If the divine is in you, then the divine is in all of us’, then please send me an email with your name and address, and perhaps be so kind as to paypal me £3 to cover the photocopying and paper costs, and I’ll post one right to your door! I’m on sallyjenkinsonpoetry@gmail.com

Loads of love, and happy National Poetry Day to everyone for tomorrow! xx

Our first year at Shambala Festival with new venue Phantom Laundry

August bank holiday weekend was our first year at Shambala Festival with our new poetry and music venue Phantom Laundry. We were missing some vital and beloved crew members from our family this year, so it was really sad in lots of ways. But we worked really hard to create a new venue which showcased the best poetry, spoken word and live music from around the scene this year, and we were proud of the result.

Thank you from the bottom of our (still very tired) hearts to every poet, musician, DJ, artist, crew member, watcher, listeners, applauder, gasp-in-awe-er and dancer who graced our venue for its first ever outing at Shambala Festival. We are proud to have poetry and spoken word at the forefront of the progamming in such a big, beautiful space at a festival (and of course proud to showcase such brilliant live music too!). If you were there, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!
Love, Phantom Laundry X

(Most of) the Phantom Laundry 2017 stage crew

(Most of) the Phantom Laundry 2017 stage crew Photo credit: Tilly May Photography

Photo credit: Tilly May Photography

Brighton POEM-A-THON, raising funds for The Refugee Council

Next month I am taking part in the BRIGHTON POEM-A-THON (more info below). If you have been looking for an opportunity to donate a little of your cash to support refugees, pledging some money via this page to the Refugee Council is a great way to do it! In return for your donation, I will be sharing my poems in public as part of this sponsored mega poetry marathon on 11th December!

http://www.justgiving.com/Sally-Jenkinson3

I need to raise £250 minimum by then, so any help you can offer will be gratefully received! THANK YOU for your support, I hope we can pull together and in a small way offer some help and friendship to our fellow humans in need.

YOU CAN DONATE HERE!

Brighton POEM-A-THON information:

Between 12 noon to 10 pm on Sunday 11th December, a  relay of 60 poets and readers will each read for 8 minutes throughout the day, at the Komedia, Brighton.

Start: 12 noon  Finish: 10 p.m

FREE ENTRY Komedia 44-47 Gardner Street, Brighton. BN1 1UN

Audience members can join us at any time throughout the day, staying for as long or as short a time as they wish.  There will be refreshments, a bookstall and tombola as well as information about our charity.

Notes from Skriduklaustur #5 – on being alone

I have got 4 days left of my writing residency at Skriduklaustur, in East Iceland.

I feel bowled over with gratitude for such an amazing and rare opportunity to take so much time to work on my writing, and in such a uniquely beautiful place.

The Fljotsdalur valley is one of the most beautiful places that I have seen in real life. Despite getting to travel more through writing and performance work in recent years, I still would not call myself a confident traveller, and I must admit I was daunted by the idea of coming all this way on my own, and staying in a place with no transport links or nearby amenities (I’m 39k from the nearest town).

People have been super kind and friendly, and in truth it has not been as scary or isolating as I was worried about, but still a challenge for a woman who grew up in a big,  noisy household and has always lived in cities!

I’m still ruminating on the effects of being alone on my creative process.

On the one hand, I have undeniably got lots of work done. I have managed to not only fully draft, but also start to edit and appraise and re-edit, this piece ‘Like The Water’ (mentioned in my previous post) which I have been trying to carve out the time to work on for years. I feel excited and intrigued by the results, and confident that I’ve got an interesting body of work which I can continue to work on back in the real world (it so much easier to work on and develop something which already exists than it is to create fresh work, in our busy lives). I have also finished a few articles (more on that later) that I had been commissioned to write, and had the creative time and space at explore other new writing – not attached to any particular project, just for the joy of making new poems, notes and ideas and squirreling them away until they’re ready to see daylight or be worked on later.

On the other hand, I have been second-guessing myself at every turn of the creative journey. Is this any good? Is it actually completely awful? Am I wasting this precious time by working on the wrong thing, weighting my time wrongly, pursuing work which is not high enough quality? In some ways, I still have no idea of the answer to these questions, and I don’t feel like I will know until I am back in my real life. It is as though being away from my reality – my friends, family, artistic community, and indeed any people at all, for the most part, has switched off my calibrator of what is and isn’t good writing, in my own work. It is interesting to realise, as a poet (ostensibly a very lonely pursuit) how actually collaborative my writing-mind is. I listen to and discuss and engage with other people at every step of the process of gathering ideas and creating work, often implicitly, and much more than I had realised.

There have been three undeniable advantages to working here, and working in solitude, though, and for those I am most definitely a better writer after this experience; this incredible setting (this house, the people who curate it, its resourses and this landscape around me) and the chance to explore it, the time and space to read everyday (and so much)*and of course, the lack of real-life distractions, meaning that I have now got those precious actual words on actual paper (and MS Word files) to work with, going forward!

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Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe’s 2010 collection ‘There’s an Island in the Bone’. I bought this copy in Columbo in 2011 and it has been everywhere with me on my travels ever since; south-east Asia, Australia, Iceland.

*I have re-read Jackie Kay’s collection ‘The Adoption Papers’ and Ramya Chamalie Jirasinge’s ‘There’s An Island In The Bone’, two of my favourite books of poetry, both of which remind me what kind of writing I might one day create if I keep trying and learning. I have also read ‘The Good Shepherd’ and ‘Black Cliffs’ by Gunnar Gunnarson, two very different styles of novel, but both full of rich, loving, scary, and awesome descriptions of the Icelandic landscape, making them so brilliant to read whilst staying here, in the Fljotsdalur valley and in Gunnarson’s house! I  borrowed the english translations from the library here at the culture centre, and should you ever come across a translation in your own language then I really recommend both novels.

Notes from Skriduklaustur, East Iceland #4 -Like The Water

So the main reason I came here, apart from looking for waterfalls and falling off my bike, was to work on a piece I’ve been trying to have a proper go on for almost ten years. It has gone through so many configurations in that time, and is still forming itself really, so everything I say about it here can basically be prefixed with the sentence-starter ‘at the moment’.

Here goes. At the moment it is a long story / very short novel (piece of fiction, at any rate) in verse. It is broken into poems, like a collection of poems, but with a strong narrative throughout. It is set in Morecambe (or any northern seaside town where your imagination chooses to take you), and the voice is of a young woman who has been recently bereaved of her sister (step-sister, I suppose, but more on that later). To tell you any more would be giving too much away, but the themes I’m trying to deal with are; sexuality and mental health and grief in young people (especially young women), the ways in which a family can grieve seperately and collectively, and most importantly for me, it is a love letter to the non-nuclear family.

I will be editing and re-apprasing it for a long time to come, but it seems rude not to share a tiny peek at it, seen as we’re here.

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Excerpt- ‘Like The Water’, early draft.