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Writing blind

December 5, 2016

As I write these words I have a rather mechanical voice spilling from a pair of earphones, into my ears, into my brain, into my mind. Every word I am writing is echoed, as if a tiny, persistent and very annoying creature is doing his best to win a childish bet. But, without this voice, this sentence would probably be very different, if written at all. I am a totally blind writer, I rely upon clever pieces of software to allow me to scatter my ideas and commit them to hard drive and ultimately to paper.

As I sit here, I contemplate my latest book, Tesserae, a collection of poems. When it was published I decided to have the poems collected in chronological, rather than thematic order. This, for me makes interesting reading. The collection provides me with an emotional and intellectual journey as the poems seem to track my “sight loss” without me realising it.

Poetry reflects the essence of what it is to be a person. A poem is a fragment, a shard of the poet’s soul. A poem is inspired by a feeling, a moment, a thing. Poetry, for me, is the mirror and the lamp. A self contained universe, a micro story wherein lurks a glimpse of the inner landscape. When the last of my eyesight decided to abandon me in around 2012,I was scared. Not only because of the many minor and not so minor practical considerations, but because I thought it would change and dictate how and what I write. When I look at my work, the poems I wrote post 2012, I see something interesting. The poems are richer, more visceral. They erupt with sensual spirit and vigour. Yes, they lack the classic elements – the salute to beautiful and marvellous sunsets and landscapes, but they have another kind of essence, a cleaner, neater truth.

Writing is about connecting, it is about expressing feelings. As a writer, I want the reader to feel what I felt. To feel what I want my characters to feel as they go on their journey. In the past I wrote without Jaws, my screen reading software. Instead, I used a giant font and listened to music whilst I wrote or edited. The music anchored me, kept me present, kept me company during long night time vigils at the keyboard. But, for the last few years, I have only had the moment – a capsule of space, me, laptop, earphones locked together in a technological waltz. Now, I have no distractions, no visual input for my brain to process. I can construct my reality without the “real” world impinging. Sitting here, I know what’s around me; a painting of stone henge, a painting of some ancient cave art. A replica Saxon helmet, ornaments, a coat stand. I know what’s here, but not precisely. This ambiguity allows my imagination to thrive. When I am out I have a good idea of what’s around me, but in unfamiliar places my imagination fills in the blanks and furnishes me with a tapestry of surreal vibrancy.

Being blind isn’t fun. Editing is a chore, making things that I have never seen seem real is a challenge. But writing blind is liberating. I am not constrained by anybody else’s mood music but my own. I listen hard, I write good dialogue. My words are my own, the feelings I have are mine to pass on. The poems I now write are brighter because of the lack of light, my internal sight sharper because reality can no longer blunt it.

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