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Finding Unexpected Parallels - Keisha Thompson

It slightly bizarre to think that I first met Ros and Mark four years ago for the 1000 Days project. I was approached to do a poetic evaluation – a strand of work that I am deeply passionate about. It is always a privilege to be given access to the intimate details of a project. The challenge for me is to mesh my observations, report reading and miscellaneous evidence gathering into some poetry that is reflective and analytical. On this occasion I produced 10 poems. I attempted to capture a variety of voices and perspectives to give a human and intimate overview of the results and recommendations attached to the project. Following this, I performed and recorded the work. Ros and Mark composed and recorded in response.

The next iteration of this wonderful process has been to reflect on the experience of writing the poems and share this in a series of workshops. We connected with medical students and young artists from a variety of institutions, cultural organizations and community groups. In the sessions, we shared audio recordings and text excerpts. I also read the poems out live. I explained what it was like to be observer, how I took inspiration from the materials to write and how I collaborated with Mark and Ros. I did not expect that the questions from the participants would bring me to have an epiphany about my process.

I went into the sessions keen to spread the word about creative evaluation. I wanted the medical students to consider attached creative evaluators to their future projects and to encourage young artists to consider how their artistic skills could transfer to other contexts such as research projects. In one of the sessions however, I was asked how got into the headspace of being an observer. It was then that realized that I had drawn from my background of doing Playback theatre; a specific form of improvised theatre that is often used for community work. A major part of the practice requires you to channel neutrality. Understanding how to be beacon for others stories. Learning how to listen and be open to honour the teller. It is a great discipline to put your own opinions and experiences aside and simply use your artistic skills to retell the story of the contributor. It is a great skill to hold someone else’s story without judgment.

Playback has proved to be vastly impactful in bringing communities together and giving voice to experiences that can sometimes get lost. There are clear parallels between being a playbacker and being a creative evaluator. It is important to capture the voice of lived experience particularly within the context health research. The poems I produce go beyond quotes and case studies. Art has the power to communicate emotional or sensory or abstract concepts in an alternative way. It does not usurp the factual material. It sits alongside it and speaks to a different part of the brain or better yet the body.

For that very reason, I am not only writing this blog. I have also written in response to a song produced by Mark to reflect on this part of the process. Listening to that and reading this will be two very different experiences.

I hope you enjoy them both.


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