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Human Writes: A Guest Blog with disabled writer Ann Young

I am really delighted to welcome on to my blog Poet & Disability Arts Advocate Ann Young. I heard her read one of her poems at the Dead (Women) Poet’s Society in Norwich. A couple of working poets shared with the audience two forgotten female poets from the past, then during the second half of the event, poets were invited to take to the stage to read both a poem from a dead female poet and share one of their own. One of these was the talented Ann.

How long have you been writing poetry for?

I used to write really naïve rhyming couplets at my special boarding school in Ely, Cambridgeshire, in the 1970s. I had quite a basic education, but I loved reading and writing. Due to my impairment, I find it difficult to write by hand, so I would bash these short pieces out on a manual typewriter and sell them as a stapled collection to other pupils and staff for 10p a pop! I was quite proud of these home-made pamphlets and I think they helped me to demonstrate to the headmistress that I had some potential.  With her help I managed to get a place at Hereward College, in Coventry (a F.E. college for disabled people) and this is where my life really took off.

I have poems scattered all over my hard drive from years of writing off and on, not really taking it seriously but enjoying the process. In the 1990s I discovered the Disability Arts Movement, here in the UK and became involved in promoting and supporting disabled artists. With funding from Arts Council East, Norfolk County Council and the district councils here in Norfolk I set up CREATE! an organisation which existed to support local disabled artists and advise mainstream arts organisations about physical and cultural access. I loved this job, yet I never considered myself as an artist, even though I had a few pieces of work published in niche Disability Arts publications.

My own career as a poet has only really taken off now, in my mid 50s.

How has your health affected your writing?

As I’ve said, handwriting is difficult which is frustrating at times, especially if I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea. I did try using a Dictaphone but my husband wasn’t too pleased with that and by the time I had fumbled for the record button, in the dark, the idea would have gone. These days, if I have an idea or a line of poetry in my head, I just write the key words down on a pad or any scrap of paper I can find and work on it later on my computer, hoping that I can read my awful writing!

Energy is also a big issue for me. I live with Cerebral Palsy and as I get older, just doing the basics, washing, dressing, cooking, cleaning they all take up a huge amount of energy and time. I read many writing manuals that say you should write everyday and it makes me laugh because sometimes it’s just not feasible! I envy those middle-class women of the nineteenth century who could afford a cook and a maid to help with housework. Having said that, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had a full life; I have a son, who is 25 this year and doing well, I have a loving husband who supports my ambitions and I have had an amazing range life experiences and careers that I can draw upon when writing.

Reading my work out loud is a challenge as my speech is very different and can be difficult to understand if you don’t know me but hey, that’s half the fun and I hope it challenges some negative stereotypes.

What three words best describe you?

Cheeky, Determined, Independent.

Who is your favourite poet and could you share your favourite fiction novel with us?

Ahh now, this is a difficult one! There are so many amazing poets out there. I love Tony Harrison – his working class grit echoes my own experiences of being the first in the family to go to university.

I read as much as I can and am part of a book group at my local library. One of the first books I read for book group was, ‘spill, simmer, falter, wither’ by Sara Baume. It is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read and a cracking good story!

What are you most proud of?

Surviving!

My son, Carter. He graduated from Sheffield University in 2018 with a Master’s in mathematics.

Do you have any advice you can share with others with disabilities who would like to write?

Never feel that your life experiences aren’t as ‘interesting’ or ‘valid’ as anyone else’s.

Read but more specifically, try to read work by other disabled writers. My favourites are Lois Keith and Micheline Mason. There is also a really vibrant disability arts and culture world out there if you are interested in exploring your identity as a disabled person. A good place to start is, Disability Arts Online (DA0) www.disabilityarts.online

Where is your favourite place in the world?

In 1990, I travelled to the Solomon Islands on an Operation Raleigh style expedition. Our small group spent three months on a small island called Simbo, building a community centre for tribal functions. I loved every minute of it! I was the only visibly disabled person in the group and felt so privileged to have the opportunity to live with and learn about another culture. I made many lovely friends and was quite sad to leave!

Where can we read more of your work?

You can find my more recent work on my WordPress site: Human Writes: Life, Love, Loss and all that lies in-between.

https://annyounng.wordpress.com/

I’m going to leave you with one of Anne’s poems entitled Writing on Walls. She dreamed up the idea for this poem after spending time sitting in traffic jams going to the doctor or dentist or waiting at the chemist for prescriptions to be made up. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of this poem. Enjoy!

Thanks so much Anne for agreeing to come on the blog 🙂

Writing on Walls

Why don’t we write more poetry on the walls?

In doctor’s surgeries, dentists and the backsides of buses

Or the growing empty spaces in our shopping malls?


Why wait to engrave heartfelt kindness on loved one’s tombs

Where only cold stone and ancient trees will remember them?

When our eternal love could be enshrined in waiting rooms.


Words could carpet floors, or be etched on chairs

To make the waiting time feel well, less waited

Or travel foot by foot with us, up sterile stairs.


Blake’s burning tiger; Lawrence’s giant hummingbirds

Should not be tucked away in the neat lines of books

And Duffy’s Wives or Rudyard’s ‘If’ would make the perfect wedding gift.


Why don’t we write more poetry on the walls?

To replace all those vacuous ads that grab at all our money

And lead us further and further away from our precious humanity.

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If you enjoyed this blog post, complement it with author Sara Alex’s journey with dyslexia; how writer Louise Jensen wrote through chronic pain, or my own journey on living and writing with chronic insomnia.

Rebecca Stonehill
2 replies
    • Rebecca Stonehill
      Rebecca Stonehill says:

      Thanks so much for reading, Ann is such an inspiration isn’t she and I agree, the poem is the best. We really do need more poetry in public spaces rather than the constant bombardment of advertising etc

      Reply

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