Wednesday 27 March 2024

EPIC Poetry

On 27 February a group of poetry enthusiasts, patients, arts and health practitioners, health professionals, generally curious folk, a few students, and a dog gathered in an upstairs room of a pub in Bristol to take part in a poetry workshop. The workshop was the first step in a process which will see the creation of a musical piece for EPIC. The choral piece will be based on lyrics written by poet Jennifer Thorp which will be set to music by composer Toby Young. Its theme is epistemic injustice.

Working in groups with words and images


This is the second time I’ve had the good fortune to work with Jennifer and Toby, who I met via Jess Farr Cox (thank you, Jess!), who was instrumental in the creation of a previous piece, Under the surface. This composition from 2016 invited the hearer to explore breathlessness and our relationship to our breath. You can hear the piece Toby and Jennifer created for a previous research project I led, the Life of Breath, here (there’s also an interview with Toby about the creation of the piece).

The idea behind the new, EPIC choral piece is to give a voice, sound, and words to experiences of epistemic injustice, which can be bewildering and inchoate. The piece will help share the experience with a variety of audiences, inviting reflection on the nature of epistemic injustice and how to communicate it.

The piece will initially be quite short - under ten minutes - and we plan to add a few minutes to it each year of the six years of the project, based on that year's research and ideas as they develop.

So how did we start off? Jennifer, who led the workshop, first asked us to warm up with a series of writing exercises. We worked in small groups to generate random metaphors, such as 'voice is a grizzly beast.' We then wrote a list of words and descriptions evoked by several powerful images, including a painting by Edward Hopper and an illustration from Maurice Sendak.

Poetry workshop


Jennifer then asked us to think of examples of situations in which we experienced silence of various kind: being silenced by a mother or spouse, an awkward silence at a dinner party, the silence following bad news ... many examples were given and elaborated on.

Our next exercise was to describe a situation involving silence from the point of view of an object on the scene (a pillow, school gates, and a stone were some of the objects).

We then created lists of words evoked by a particular situation of silence of our choice which we then turned into short poems. Here is one:

It’s childish, I know.
But it feels hotly dignified.
It is a punishing, vindictive, wrathful silence.
But it leaves you cold.

Jennifer took away many pieces of paper with ink and crayon markings on them. What will become of those pieces of paper? On that in our next blog post, in which we will hear more about the creative process as Jennifer and Toby take it to the next stage.

The choral piece will be premiered at the EPIC project launch on Monday 13 May 2024, where it will be performed (as part of a social justice themed program of choral pieces) by the wonderful Bristol University Singers. Please email Charlotte Withers ( if you'd like to attend.

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