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SHIELD

Cover of SHIELD by Jamie Hale

On the 14th Jan 2021, Shield – my first poetry pamphlet – will be published by Verve Press. Exploring my experience as a disabled person during the pandemic through a variety of voices, Shield has been described as:

‘These are arresting, heart-stopping poems lit with a rare intensity. Hale’s poems don’t pull any punches, they explore what it is to live in a body and on the way touch the centre of the fragility deep inside all of us. Humane poems that will make you ache.’ 

– Mona Arshi

You can pre-order from many bookshops, or the publisher themselves here.

There will be a launch event in January

Shield (MacTaggart Lecture)

When I’m not writing poetry, I’m also moving into writing for television – a world I’m realising just makes disabled people almost completely invisible – most of the time.

The MacTaggart Lecture is the keynote of the Edinburgh Film and Television International Show, and is delivered by a leading light of the industry. This year, it was read by Jack Thorne – screenwriter extraordinaire – exploring disability discrimination in the industry.

I met Jack Thorne through Crips Without Constraints (a monologue-writing series he introduced for Graeae, for which I wrote When We Got Sick). When he got in touch to ask about reading from Shield in the MacTaggart Lecture I was blown away – and even moreso to read the script and watch him eviscerate an industry out of love, and belief that it could improve.

The poem he read is the first in the book, and I’m reproducing it here. If you enjoyed it, you can buy the whole pamphlet (link)


i

i write an email to my GP telling him please
i love my life telling him please i want to be
the opposite of a Do Not Resuscitate order
the opposite of a patient you’d give a quiet death

o god let me die loudly let my ribs crack
i will arc with shock please i’d rather die
as i’ve lived as i’ve lived filled with love and
i’d rather die fierce as myself, every time

every bloody time. so i tell him what i do
wave my accomplishments my desperate
shield of fragile silk; i hide and tell him
i have value over and over and over

and over as if i wasn’t sat at the keys
crying silently and telling him this

Round Table: Fisher King

This is part of a sequence of five vignettes of Arthurian characters and dilemmas placed into historical contexts, written on commission from Bedtime Stories for the End of the World (link). For the full sequence of poems, click here (link)

For an audio file of my reading of the full sequence click here (link – note, it may autoplay)

For a podcast of myself and Momtaza Mehri discussing our poems click here (link), and for a transcript of the podcast click here (link)


Fisher King – Frensham – 2120

This boat replaced my legs, long ago.
I never leave the water now, though
my oars are green with algae, and snares
slowly through the sludge. The fish I catch
and eat – still raw and wriggling – are long
and thin. More fragile bone than flesh. I choose
to stay amidst the water, not return to shore.
My wound, my body, my failing land – the
acid rain has drenched the trees and lakes.
I will not be healed – my legs – my wound.
Watch me turn away Perceval – his lance
can make whole only me, but I am as hurt
as the land is hurting and I would rather die
as the land itself is dying. But come the grail
to trade for the faerie’s stolen cauldron and
then its devastation shall be healed. I shall
stay like this, by choice, but not barren, bear
daughters from my womb, my hidden wound
and lie off-shore, and over days the land
itself regrows, refreshes. Friend, there will be
a place where we can start again, my wound
a badge, the land, not sore but healing,
our love, not sore but healing – please – bring
only the holy grail – and yourself. Please,
come to me alone and let us renew the world.

Round Table: Gawain

This is part of a sequence of five vignettes of Arthurian characters and dilemmas placed into historical contexts, written on commission from Bedtime Stories for the End of the World (link). For the full sequence of poems, click here (link)

For an audio file of my reading of the full sequence click here (link – note, it may autoplay)

For a podcast of myself and Momtaza Mehri discussing our poems click here (link), and for a transcript of the podcast click here (link)


Gawain – Teufelsberg – 1989

If I had thought I had my honour, mine
it wasn’t much. I crossed the greying
border, cycled, my papers clear, I, just one
of many men moving steadily past the gate
between one Berlin and the other –
somehow alike – and yet unalike. A different
tone to the grey-paved streets, both the
same, and subtly different. That fear
each time of betrayal catching at me,
the guards with guns this great game
centered on one crossing of the line
between the sides, between the spies. If I
thought I had my honour, then one drink
fewer, one lady fewer, one alluring
temptation to blurt my secrets – fewer.
When put to the test – sir – I know I failed.
Not for thumbscrews or for torture –
I would carry those alone, and laugh
at pain and death, but for these eyes
that spoke, and softness. I, too long a
lonely soldier had thought my resistance
to be stronger but here, in this second
raining city, seen and watched by life itself,
sir, I gave her my address. She was young,
vivacious, I refused a fuck – refused a kiss,
kept my shining honour unimpeached, and
then she asked, just to write a letter,
and I agreed. No secret, I know, that I
was there – this dance of spies – we
see each other, play the same long
game, the cards, the same green papers
no secret my address, they watch my
flat at night, but sir, I failed for the
temptation to feel desired and alive

Round Table: Galehaut (1985)

This is part of a sequence of five vignettes of Arthurian characters and dilemmas placed into historical contexts, written on commission from Bedtime Stories for the End of the World (link). For the full sequence of poems, click here (link)

For an audio file of my reading of the full sequence click here (link – note, it may autoplay)

For a podcast of myself and Momtaza Mehri discussing our poems click here (link), and for a transcript of the podcast click here (link)


Galehaut – Los Angeles – 1985

And there. In the valley of death – in the
forsaken Sodom of my people – the curse
of our salt-slicked pillars I learned that all
there is – is love – alone. And I, the luckiest
still alive to have felt this now. Drenched,
soaked in the light, him, Lance, his striking
flesh, his bitter face, his inner warmth. I
always knew myself second to none but her,
his blazing desire for Guinevere and me his
reckless poison. And I, young, eager, blooming
in his love. I blossomed from his fierceness –
these great wounds in the richest reds,
roses blotted in blood and buried deep
beneath my skin. I learned what it is to love
my brother, to nurse an endless cough
late at night, to gaze into the anxious eyes of
my friends and be a stranger. In those
yearning moments, my lungs too growing
pneumocystis, my endless pills, my Bactrim
my desire to be alive I learned that I had
only love; and that my brothers were all my
people. There, after sickness swept New York,
Fire Island, men in the fast lane, it came for us,
our saunas, our white picket houses, our sense of
desire. My loves, if this is it for our people then
please, may some man, some time farin the future
holding hands with another like him, like Lance
and I, or all our brothers, see my grassy grave
and say “there went men, like us, and love”,
or is the future barren as the present, deep
and empty, born with grace, and left by death?

Round Table: Perceval

This is part of a sequence of five vignettes of Arthurian characters and dilemmas placed into historical contexts, written on commission from Bedtime Stories for the End of the World (link). For the full sequence of poems, click here (link)

For an audio file of my reading of the full sequence click here (link – note, it may autoplay)

For a podcast of myself and Momtaza Mehri discussing our poems click here (link), and for a transcript of the podcast click here (link)


Perceval – Eyam – 1665

I knew that I was fleeing something gruesome
London pestilent and I had a mission shaped
of fear. And after me the chains of people flood
but sucking at the blood of all the stragglers.
Pustulous. Pustules all black and bloated and
after them came death. Not slick and slender
swish, dark cloak and scythe but the scrim of
filthy oil on water, plague sucking at the light.
And with me a severed head, wrapped
in layers of cloth. A lance, blood-shocked,
blood-tipped and wet with fleas, floating
carrying its deathly self as if I were not
quite real. So I crossed the peaks alone,
great shining hills and the world spread
out below. I looked back at that scrim of
oily water coating empty fields behind me,
seeping through. I settled down towards Eyam,
my severed head, my lance, my trail of death,
my tiny village, my people – awaiting my
arrival, unknowing, so self-sacrificing and small.

Round Table: Guinevere

This is part of a sequence of five vignettes of Arthurian characters and dilemmas placed into historical contexts, written on commission from Bedtime Stories for the End of the World (link). For the full sequence of poems, click here (link)

For an audio file of my reading of the full sequence click here (link – note, it may autoplay)

For a podcast of myself and Momtaza Mehri discussing our poems click here (link), and for a transcript of the podcast click here (link)


Guinevere – Hastings – 1066

He called me long-legged like a statue, and I
was swept – a wave-carved stone, a natural
body of legs, and we were young and beautiful,
then also married. So easy to fall in love – so hard
to stay. But I did my weighty duty. If this duty is
a woman’s work then Arthur demands his table
laid; the drunken sot his glass half full. Ballistic.
Bombastic, downplaying all the losses dropping
his archers on maps and planning corpses, as if
like Tostig like Hardrada the Normans would be next
to flee his fyrd his housecarls his weakened forces.
At night he sobs. Lance called me long-legged, like
a horse, and him the fabled fighter, my knight –
I leapt, as if diving into battle or fleeing from
the hunt. An easy fuck – no more the solid weight
of stone, the holding, the frozen beauty and I
not steady yet, still bounding. He saw me,
long-legged, and marked me with the will to
move. And Arthur. That old drunk that hero
lost inside his ale. That gorgeous man, that
anxious child, the sword, still too long, and
all too weighty. The flighty soldier, all the
men I loved and lost and loved again – but him
and Lance, his almost-brother. My almost man
– the bitter I always knew, the wit, the misery
hate turned to poison and ate, the winter’s
cold, the outside’s biting air, strength captivated
hardened, but he melted me to life. Do I run
to him? Fleeing, freedom, the first air I breathe
as mine. Not I. I know a man, I speak
the Welsh of my mother’s family, I can ride
a horse with grace – so I will go deep behind
the lines and find my freedom on the ground
where I was born. I owe them nothing and myself

I owe myself the world, so I will leave



Gawain – Teufelsberg – 1989

If I had thought I had my honour, mine
it wasn’t much. I crossed the greying
border, cycled, my papers clear, I, just one
of many men moving steadily past the gate
between one Berlin and the other –
somehow alike – and yet unalike. A different
tone to the grey-paved streets, both the
same, and subtly different. That fear
each time of betrayal catching at me,
the guards with guns this great game
centered on one crossing of the line
between the sides, between the spies. If I
thought I had my honour, then one drink
fewer, one lady fewer, one alluring
temptation to blurt my secrets – fewer.
When put to the test – sir – I know I failed.
Not for thumbscrews or for torture –
I would carry those alone, and laugh
at pain and death, but for these eyes
that spoke, and softness. I, too long a
lonely soldier had thought my resistance
to be stronger but here, in this second
raining city, seen and watched by life itself,
sir, I gave her my address. She was young,
vivacious, I refused a fuck – refused a kiss,
kept my shining honour unimpeached, and
then she asked, just to write a letter,
and I agreed. No secret, I know, that I
was there – this dance of spies – we
see each other, play the same long
game, the cards, the same green papers
no secret my address, they watch my
flat at night, but sir, I failed for the
temptation to feel desired and alive


Knights of the Round Table

As a commission for the podcast Bedtime Stories for the End of the World I wrote a series of poems merging Arthurian legend, history, and themes to build a wold tracing ripples through those characters. I was lucky enough to be paired with Momtaza Mehri, who made excellent suggestions on the poems, and we did a podcast (link) for Bedtime Storiestranscript (link).

I wrote five sections in total, and they can be found linked below. If you want to listen to an audio file of them, click here (link)

If you want to read them, they are linked below:

Guinevere – Hastings – 1066

Perceval – Eyam – 1665

Galehaut – Los Angeles – 1985

Gawain – Teufelsberg – 1989

Fisher King – Frensham – 2120

Lewisham and Harrow (with Daljit Nagra)

A collaborative poem between Jamie Hale and Daljit Nagra

J
The field here by day is throbbing. Drill-master ex-army
workouts, blonde women sprint with their buggies.
At night, the music is thrumming. Car-speaker bass.
I fight the desire to dance, the neighbour calls the cops.

D
During lockdown we go for walks in our park in Harrow,
some live on the Hill while most of us live down below
on the plains. I’m on the path and pass a man in Barbour
speak to his phone, ‘yes, the horse I once bought in Russia’.

J Here’s a striding space of grass. I look to London, modernity’s
spires strike upwards. The shard holds a cloud, a stag,
pierces sky on its antlers. The day, almost clear, is bright,
my dog sees a fox, pricks his ears, and pulls. I stop.

D
Boys in boaters and stripey blazers, weeping
willows, a view past Wembley Arch to the gherkin,
I’m up at Harrow on the Hill, I’m heading for a
pint at The Castle, the only place up here I’m ever inside.

J
The air is fresh nowhere here. I feel it – the smog,
an oily, dust in my lungs. But birds can bear it, I hear
the wild parakeet calling, calling. Tell me, friend
when did you last see an unbuilt skyline? Are you free?

D
You’ve a dog Jamie? We’ve a pup, a cockapoo
black with a snowy streak bearding his tum
to his chin, he’s all licky at every dog; a new
world of walkers befriend me and my mutt.

J
Small? Ours knows the greying world, long-nose
blue, white star, and socks. Career’s well-past,
unstoried, raced poorly on the tracks. His da
was famous, him not so much, but gentle and soft

D
Sounds of sports in Harrow Rec by the pavilion:
boundrry, boundrry stand at da boundrry, howzzzat?
the footie fields: Ref! Markup! Where’s your man.
Ours! Get tight on him. He’s there, at your back!

J
The sports up here are quieter – maybe I just
don’t pass by at their times. Yoga mats multiply
on the grass like desperate beach-towels
lusting against the damp for the warmth of winter sun

D
Yes we’ve the various mat crews throughout the day.
I assume those postures they project are for yoga:
the elderly folk walk for the park and at it till late,
I’ve a few years left before I join them to bend ov
er…ooh me coccyx,
I’m feeling seasick.

J
Steady up! It’s funny how our bodies are the same
London over – and yet so different. Funny also
how London itself is the same, and even our dogs
so different, so free, so loved, are somehow the same.

Keeping creating when inspiration has fled

Jamie against a brick wall

I’m passionate about my creative career, and when people ask me how I work, one of the first things I say is that I make time to produce creative work every day – even if just a tiny bit. Why do I do that? I’m often uninspired, I struggle to figure out what to write, I sit and stare at my screen, and at the end I have a poem that I’m basically disappointed in.

Sometimes inspiration strikes me like a bolt from the blue. I wrote my poetry pamphlet Shield in three desperate weeks at the beginning of the pandemic – hardly stopping. My upcoming pamphlet, Magpies was the same. So why bother when I often create my best work when I get a bolt of inspiration, not when I’m forcing myself to produce work I’m fundamentally unhappy with? Because the reason I get inspiration is because I create work, and take work in – I read, and I make myself write. I get far more bolts of inspiration when I’m actively working than when I’m in a bit of a fallow period.

So, quality and quantity?

There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story about a pottery class in high school. The tutor divided the students into two groups. One group would be marked on the best pot they produced during the course. The other would be marked on the weight of their combined pots, regardless of quality.

Who produced the better pots?

Apparently, the quantity group – they were testing, learning, experimenting, and improving. The other group were trying so hard to produce something perfect, that they eventually didn’t succeed. It sounds counter-intuitive right? But it’s what I’ve found with my own creative work – that roughly 80% of what I produce isn’t up to scratch, and I like 20%. If I only create when inspired, then I’m producing far less work to get that top 20% from. If I just create constantly, I’m far better at producing that really high-quality work.

My main piece of advice whenever anyone asks me about my career and creativity is that it’s always better to be producing lots of work than very little. But how do I do this?

  1. I make time to write something every day. A committed practice which makes me far more likely to be inspired
  2. I wait before I edit. My opinion on my work often changes radically with time
  3. I write when inspired, but I also write when not inspired. Basically, I write all the time

What’s your top tip for creating successfully?

NOT DYING

Jamie Hale – NOT DYING, Barbican Centre

NOT DYING is my first full length solo show, and was developed in Autumn 2018 through the Barbican OpenLab programme. I’m presenting an early version at the Lyric Hammersmith on the 6th June, before it officially launches at the Barbican as part of CRIPtic (a take-over of the Pit Theatre by D/deaf and disabled people that I’m co-ordinating).

Every solo show is intensely personal to its creator, and the same is certainly true of me with NOT DYING. It tells a story of coming to terms with an impending death – before that was thrown upside down. I’ve never talked publicly about this experience before, and I’m terrified to show the world.

For unknown reasons, from early 2016 to late 2017, I was getting very serious infections. My body couldn’t fight them off, I was ending up in intensive care, and everything looked quite grim. The doctors made it clear that the body couldn’t go on the way mine was. My GP was very forthright (read: brutal) in his clarity of explanation, and there didn’t seem to be an awful lot of hope.

This meant that I was no longer preparing for the plausible guarantee of a long life, and I started to write about that, exploring what it was costing me to live with the constant threat of death hanging over me. The terror, the frustration, the agony.

As a last resort, my urologist tried a new and experimental use of an existing treatment back in 2017 – a process first described in the literature in 2018 – and it began to work. My doctors also realised my adrenal gland was failing, making me almost unable to fight off any illness that came my way. This combination of treatments got the infection under control, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this changed my future completely – and saved my life.

NOT DYING no longer worked for me as a show. I wasn’t rapidly dying any more, I was having to learn what it meant to be a disabled person in the world. How I could root myself. How people related to me, and how I related to them. I rewrote it, as my life and prognosis changed. I focused on my relationship to death, other peoples’ relationships with my mortality, and on the future.

This moment of processing the turn from death to life defines the show completely. That complete reframing of my life allowed me to really see disability through a political lens, as a challenge to me and the world. NOT DYING lets me turn that challenge back on the audience: feel what I felt as I faced dying, then feel how I feel facing the world as a disabled person (and know that you are complicit in this).