Skip to content

Spiky Poetry

Spiky Poetry

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Access all Poetry in which I talked about poetry in terms of its accessibility for disabled poets and audiences. I spent Thursday night reading poetry at Spike Island with deaf poet Donna Williams and paralysed poet Stephen Lightbown.

Cast and Crew

In order of appearance:

Fiona Hamilton

Our compare for the night was Fiona Hamilton who introduced us all and directed the Q&A

Poet Giles L. Turnbull being introduced to compare for the evening, Fiona Hamilton

Nikki Harris

Everything spoken that night — introductions, poems and the Q&A was signed by Nikki Harris. obviously I can’t see the signing but I am told it was awesome seeing it as the speakers spoke the words. I could actually hear Nikki very quietly speaking the words I was reading so that lip readers could follow that too ... and I paced my poems to reflect that, moving from one line to the next a little slower if I thought Nikki hadn't quite finished signing that line. In musical parlance, it turned the performance of a poem into a duet :)

poet Giles L. Turnbull being introduced to British Sign Language interpreter Nikki Harris

Giles L. Turnbull

I was the first poet to take the stage. I read six poems, some taken from my pamphlet, others from my first full collection (currently in preparation).

poet Giles L. Turnbull reading with Nikki Harris signing in BSL

Donna Williams

Donna read next. She is a poet with a keen interest in translation and in how her poetry can be made accessible to hearing and deaf audiences alike.

My name is Donna Williams and I am a Deaf British Sign Language poet, writer and consultant based near Bristol. DeafFirefly is a name partly inspired by a friend who answers to DeafTigerBee, and Firefly is one of my all-time favourite shows. All hail Joss Whedon. And hence, DeafFirefly was born.
I grew up in the ‘hearing’ world, attending mainstream schools, and came to the Deaf world late, when I studied at the University of Central Lancashire. Joining the Deaf student community, I quickly started learning BSL, and I had some of the best years of my life. By the time I graduated in 2006, I could sign fluently and considered myself bi-cultural, moving in both hearing and Deaf worlds. This is an outlook I still have, as I spend time in both worlds, but sometimes this is not easy, I reflect on this in some of my poems.
(from Donna’s website,

Poet Donna Williams reading at Spike Island.

Donna’s poems began with one inspired by an Emily Dickinson poem but included some wickedly humorous poems too ... including one that talked about envy of the able-bodied, people with hearing and men (because they can just whip it out and pee where they like!)

Stephen Lightbown

Headlining the evening and bringing the poetry sets to a close was Stephen Lightbown. Stephen was launching his first full collection, Only Air published by Burning Eye books.

Poet Stephen Lightbown headlining the Spike Island event.

Stephen’s range of poetry was as varied as Donna’s. There were reflective ones about his life since the sledging accident that left him paralysed — the cover photo of his collection is of the tree in question. There were also humorous ones such as one about footballer Alan Shearer who, when he played for Blackburn Rovers, visited the hospital where Stephen was recovering. Alan was present at Spike Island courtesy of a huge poster of him in his Blackburn Rovers kit which fell off the wall during the reading of the poem ... I reckon he thought he was in the penalty area and took a dive ;)

Only Air is a deeply personal collection of poems which explore what it is like to go through a life changing accident and then to re-exist in a world that is suddenly unfamiliar. It is a story of making sense of a new way of surviving and beliefs once held whilst trying to overcome barriers, prejudices and labels. Sometimes moving other times a wry humorous account of memories, this is part biographical with a healthy mix of reflection. This collection considers what it means to be part of a family, being alive when you don’t conform, and making your journey when the way you perceive yourself is often very different to the ways others observe you. At its very core, this is a discovery of what it means to be normal and to regrow.
(from the publisher, Burning Eye product page)

ask the Poets

We ended with a Q&A session with Fiona hosting as well as asking questions before inviting questions from the floor. The photos below show the Q&A with me, Donna and Stephen first, followed by Fiona, Stephen’s wife, Carly, Donna and myself.

Q&A with Donna Harris, Giles L. Turnbull and Stephen Lightbown,

Q&A with Fiona, Carly, Donna and Giles

Final Thanks

I’m thrilled to have been invited by Stephen to support him at his book launch. I didn’t know Stephen until I received an email asking me if I’d be interested in supporting him. I said yes without having to think about it! It’s the first disability-focussed poetry reading I’ve participated in though, after talking to Stephen by email, he told me he’d heard me reading on Lunar Poetry Podcast 105 which discussed access to publishing; and here is a link to a transcript of that recording. and, related to that, the podcast was following the publication of stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back by Nine Arches Press, in which Donna and I both featured :)

As a venue the Spike Island café was awesome. The acoustics were great and all tickets were sold producing a 50-strong audience. Every poem was received with focussed attention, laughter in the humorous parts and deference in the reflective ones. Finally, last but no means least, a huge thanks to my friend Kate who collected me from Bristol Temple Meads station, drove me to Spike Island and took all the photos in this blog post :) xx

spiky #Poetry #Acessibility #Deafness #BSL #Blindness #Paralysis #SpikeIsland #Bristol @spokeandpencil #onlyair @spikeislandcafe @deaffirefly @Bix_cool #FionaHamilton @bigbrownbee @NineArchesPress

Published inblindnessPoetry


  1. Hello Giles! Carly here! I just read your post and wanted to say I really enjoyed your write up of the other night! I felt really very privileged to have been involved in such an event and it was brill to meet you and hear your poetry. It was the first time Stephen’s ever put on an event like this and my first time helping him on the night – we were honestly over the moon that everyone was so engaged in the whole project. More to come I hope! Thanks so much again for travelling and speaking on the night.

  2. Giles Giles

    I’m delighted you enjoyed it from both sides of the fence … organiser and audience member! I was so impressed at the quality of every single poem and the reactions of the audience to every single poem. I did record each set and the Q&A and will send them to Stephen in case he’d like to listen back … that’ll be next week after I get back to Swansea and can edit the recordings (trimming the starts and ends and boosting the volume)

    It was lovely to meet you, Stephen, Donna, Fiona and Nikki 🙂 xx

  3. Susan Susan

    This sounds like a wonderful evening! You’ve described it so well, I wish I had been there to hear and see it all. Thank you for sharing your evening.

  4. Giles Giles

    thanks, Susan. And the cherry on top was a bakewell slice from the cafe which I ate half of that night and the other half for breakfast!! 🙂 xx

  5. Nell Nelson Nell Nelson

    This sounds fab. Even reading about it was fascinating. Well done, all!

  6. Frances Frances

    This sounds fantastic, and what a wonderful idea. You are all to be admired. Love the title too, Spiky Island. A pun on our Spike Island here in County Cork, I presume? (which was a prison btw!)

  7. Giles Giles

    thanks, Frances. It was a fabulous event … I have no idea if Bristol’s Spike Island artistic community has any connection to Ireland, but it’s possible 🙂 In Bristol it has a good number of studios that artists can rent … as we arrived a man was standing on the balcony outside his studio, spray painting the front of it 🙂 xx

    • Frances Frances

      Ha, ha, re-spray painting man. It would be interesting to find out about Spike Island!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2021 Giles L. Turnbull · All rights reserved

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: