Keisha Thompson, Spoken Word and the Creative Process for the 1000 Days Project
In general, I’m a writer, performance artist – mainly within a spoken word, poetry and theatre background and I work very much in an inter-disciplinary way, connecting with other artists often.
I use a range of methods when I work. There’s a strand of my work that is called chronicling or evaluating, where I am brought in to observe, take in information. It might be a mixture of observation and reading reports and engaging with different types of material and then creating an output in response to that.
Initially, for the 1000 Days Project, I received a lot of reports and evaluation material and then I also had the opportunity to actually go into the hospital and observe Ros and mark doing their work ‘on the ground’. From that material I then generated 10 poems in response to that.
It was really interesting going into the hospital. To begin with it felt like a very clinical space! You have to go through a process of removing earrings, make up hair tied back, all of that kind of thing. So it definitely felt like an induction type experience, just to be in that environment. It actually felt important to go through that process, as it definitely put me in a new ‘mental space’, allowing me to appreciate what I was getting in to, thinking about how I need to be in this space, how I need to be as discreet as possible and also willing to move out of the way when needed, because I’m definitely not a priority there, and also very much an anomaly. People don’t expect to be in hospital and see a poet in the corner, with a book, writing down what is going on! I was very much up for being interrogated, people questioning what I was doing, or asking me to go somewhere else. I tried my best to just follow Ros and Mark and seeing what they were doing and the impact they were having on people. Just lingering around, speaking to parents, speaking to medical practitioners, speaking to people working on reception, knowing when to speak, when not to, knowing when a space is too crowded, and then taking myself off to grab a coffee. It was a really great experience and beautiful to see the young people and see how the music had such an impact on them. But also, the whole ward – everyone, the families, the staff, and this is what I really wanted to capture in my work. My poems – the fact that it had such a broad reach. Also I needed to capture some of the significant medical findings in the research, so I wanted to make my work as human as possible, to also make sure it’s not just about the emotional and the anecdotal information, when there are some key findings that would be good to acknowledge, such as the way that you can monitor a child responsiveness or their progress, or their ability to breathe more deeply, to be more calm when they’re receiving treatment, whilst listening to music.
It really felt important that I honour the voices of the people that I speak to. I try to make my work as testimonial as possible; not verbatim, but being really really conscious of what they’re saying and listening to what they were saying, and not flourishing it too much with my perspective, or my lens, my experience or my opinions.
That was my approach to the work and I know that in this workshop, Ros and Mark are presenting you with four other pieces that I created, and they also collaborated with me on them, by adding music.
The first one is ‘Pure’. I wanted to write this piece, because often when I spoke to parents, they said that in the hospital context, they were used to talking about their child a lot, but not in a holistic way, not as their whole selves. It was about their medical concerns and things like that, so when they then saw their children interacting with the music, it was like they saw their whole child come to life again. They got to engage with their personalities, and their emotions, in a way that maybe other situations hadn’t permitted them to do. It felt really important for me to do a poem that was about that, so that’s what ‘Pure’ is about.
The next piece that we highlighted, was ‘Mouth Music’. Again, it felt really important to acknowledge the fact that a lot of young people were non-verbal, but they were still communicating extensively using sound and that’s an extremely intelligent thing to do, but also it’s just so playful and joyful to listen to, as you’ll hear and it really reminded me of being in a beat boxing workshop and just learning how to be creative and communicative without words, so I really wanted to do a poem that was all about that and it was really fun to do!
The last two poems are ‘Conductor’ and Lullaby.
‘Conductor’ was another one that felt really important for me to write, because it was showcasing the fact that with these musical interactions, the young people get to be at the centre, they get to be powerful, and that doesn’t happen very often in these situations. Whilst in the hospital, there’s a lot of things being done to them, and very rarely are they put in a position where they are in control. To see that level of joy and the realisation when that did happen, it felt really important for me to write a poem about that. So that’s what ‘Conductor’ is about.
The final piece is called ‘Lullaby’. I was thinking a lot about the fact that the young people in this ward would have this space of normality. Unfortunately, it is quite an artificial space, punctuated by these sounds – beeps and swooshes of doors and things that you would not associate with a natural environment. It really made me think about what it means to be growing up in a space that is like that, that is very clinical. What does it mean to not have the nuances of a more natural environment? The thing that I can think of that is the most akin to a natural environment and to having that emotional support was a lullaby. I likened the music that Mark and Ros bring to the ward to a lullaby. Not just for the young people, but the whole ward. I felt that the music had the ability to surpass some of the barriers that you might see visibly even, signs on the door saying ‘you can’t come through here’, but the music could go through there and touch people and connect everyone, make everyone breathe and sing, change everyone’s emotions. It felt really important to highlight the power of music in that way and that it could create that sense of community, and represent solace and comfort, for everyone.
I hope you all enjoy!