Julie Parsons, Rob Giles and Daniela Chivers: the i-poem giving voice to stigmatised storytellers.

This blog post draws on data from a ‘Finishing Time’ (FT) project*, that makes use of timelines and images with graduates from a prisoner resettlement scheme (LandWorks), in research encounters that aim to map/chart their journeys beyond prison or community punishment. The focus is on the collaborative processes involved in creating audio visual work that gives a voice to otherwise marginalised experiences.

LadnWorks.jpg

‘Finishing Time’, following people into the community after punishment

To date I have worked with eleven people at various stages of their resettlement journeys, from those recently released into the community, to others whose licences have ended, as well as a lifer, who is still ‘on licence’, but four years out of prison.

The FT project has evolved over time, although the initial aim to give voice and involve one of the most marginalised social groups in the research process remains the same. The dilemma was how might it be possible to do this, to highlight common themes, whilst maintaining highly individualised and personal resettlement narratives, from interviews that tended to last between one to two hours.

‘i-poems’

One solution was to create ‘i-poems’ from the transcripts, following the Voice Centred Relational (VCRM) method (Mauthner and Doucet 1998). I had done this before for my PhD in 2014 and wrote a brief commentary about the process in 2017 (where I also provide an audio recording of myself reading an i-poem, as I argue that the ‘i-poem’ is most effective for prioritising the voice of the narrator when it is heard or read aloud (Parsons 2017). I had also worked on a project with colleagues with photographs taken by participants used alongside audio recordings of their i-poems, which became a short film (see Parsons and Pettinger 2017).

Below are screenshots from Quentin’s transcript, showing how an i-poem is put together.

Once the i-poems were created from the interview transcripts they were given back to the men and audio recorded. These audio recordings, the timelines drawn by the men, plus the photographs or images they contributed during their interviews were then used together in an effort to capture something of their individual resettlement journeys.

Timelines from Anton, Quentin and Bryan below:

Rob’s Commentary – connecting with the listener

When I was first presented with the idea of the i-poem I found it intriguing. As a lyricist and songwriter, I have explored automatic writing in order to achieve an unconscious flow of spontaneity. Abstract lyrics are vehicles for lyricists to enable a listener to formulate their own meanings and interpretations creating in turn a personal connection for the listener with the music. The process of creating an abstract lyric, however, is likely to be less random than the writer imagines. Rather like a dream there is often a profound sense of emotion and state of mind flowing from the seemingly random words and sentences. The result is often a deeper insight into the conscious state through the subconscious window. These conclusions are simply reflections of the process I have engaged with and something I can certainly reflect on as having a relevance when revisited.

Emotional narratives

The i-poem although more targeted seems to offer another way to reveal a subconscious emotional narrative almost as a subtext that can be explored. The i-poems I received were constructed from interview recordings that had been transcribed into the verses that were then given back to the interviewee to be reread with the recording made. The original concept was that this recording together with personal pictures from the interviewee and their timeline could be combined to form a video. This process was slightly extended upon for the first production entitled ‘Red Pen’. The immediate issue encountered was a lack of pictures with the necessary resolution to be used however we had a deadline so together with some additional images and some transition effects an interesting result was created with some carefully chosen mood music. Two versions were made, with and without text. We agreed that the version without the text was more successful highlighting the voice, however this i-poem was to be presented at an exhibition where the sound might be difficult to listen to.

The second i-poem was put together by 2nd year Sociology student Daniela Chivers with some suitable guidance such as adding the text by way of subtitles for convenience. In the third i-poem the photos presented a dilemma as they were either presenting privacy issues or were not ideal in reflecting the subtext. To address this I decided to focus more specifically on the poetry itself for the third in the series ‘Dreaming of Fishing’. Using a sequenced delivery to animate the text over a single image for this short film helped focus the meaning further and again enhanced the voice narration. The continuous adaption and progression of the process is set to continue with each new film building on the last to further enhance and develop this series.

Rob at work:

Rob at work

Daniela’s comments

I was involved in putting together an i-poem. I was given a range of pictures that I put in order that matched with the voice recording. I had help in putting the video together, so it all played smoothly. We decided not to put the words over the top of the pictures because the recording was clear enough to hear each word. Furthermore, we didn’t want the words to cover up the pictures as they were key to what the trainee was saying and need to be clearly seen. I added subtitles to the video, so this can be turned on if needed. Whilst volunteering at Landworks, I was able to take my own pictures. I feel that this worked well because I had listened to the transcript and then could take my own pictures to go with what was being said. I didn’t want to use all my own photos when putting together the i-poem as some of the photos chosen where from the trainee and I wanted to keep it personal to them.

Some of Daniela’s photographs:

Collaboration

This collaboration has resulted in three short films ready to view, with others in production. The process of creating the films is a collaborative effort. Not only with those participating in the research itself, but others as well. Notably significant input from Rob Giles, University of Plymouth IT specialist and videographer, who interpreted the i-poems in order to create ‘Red Pen’ and ‘Dreaming of Fishing’. And Daniela Chivers, a stage 2 Sociology student on a volunteer placement at LandWorks, who worked with Rob on ‘Quentin’s i-poem’. They both engaged in work with the written and audio files of the i-poems, as well as the photographs contributed by the men. The films were sent to the men for them to comment on and for them to suggest changes, for example Quentin requested the removal of an image at the end of his film.

Opening stills from the films:

“Sometimes that’s enough” 

Overall, the films provide both individually focussed accounts and more general commentary on the stigma of criminalisation. They reveal common vocabularies to do with negotiating relationships and reimagining a positive sense of self.

The last word is from Quentin who commented on his film:

Quentin_comments on film

Acknowledgements:

Special thanks to all of the men who spent time with me for this research, drawing their timelines and sending me their photographs, especially those who subsequently read their i-poems without much of a rehearsal. Thanks to IT specialist and videographer Rob Giles, Sociology student Daniela Chivers and of course the *Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) for enabling me to carry out this research – thank you all.

References:

Mauthner, M. and Doucet, A. (1998) Reflections on a Voice Centred Relational Method in Ribbens, J. and Edwards, R. (eds) Feminist Dilemmas in Qualitative Research, London: Sage, pp119-146.

Parsons, J.M. and Pettinger, C. (2017) ‘Liminal identities’ and power struggles, reflections on the regulation of everyday foodways at a homeless centre and the use of creative participatory research as a tool of empowerment and resistance, in Bleakley, A. Lynch, L. and Whelan, G. (eds) Risk and Regulation at the Interface of Medicine and the Arts, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp171-189.

Parsons, J.M. (2017) “I much prefer to feed other people than to feed myself.” The ’i-poem’ as a tool for highlighting ambivalence and dissonance within Auto/Biographical accounts of everyday foodways, in a Special Issue of The Journal of Psycho-Social Studies, Offering Food ↔ Receiving Food, Vol 10, Iss 2 (unpaginated) http://www.psychosocial-studies-association.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Julie-Parsons-Commentary-I-do-remember-being-hungry-Ophelias-i-poem.pdf

Parsons, J.M. (2014) ‘Ourfoodstories@e-mail.com’, an Auto/Biographical Study of Relationships with Food’, PhD, https://pearl.plymouth.ac.uk/handle/10026.1/2920


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