This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

> > > DaDaFest International 2014: Owen Lowery: Otherwise Unchanged plus support from Liverpool Poets

Introduced by DaDaFest’s resident poet Roger Cliffe-Thompson, the poetry of Young DaDaFest poets rang out alongside Allan Sutherland reading a selection from ‘Proud’ and the award-winning Owen Lowery with his multi-media presentation of ‘Otherwise Unchanged’. Review by Deborah Caulfield

photo of Jennifer Taylor looking at the camera, wearing a white shirt

Photo of Jennifer Taylor disability rights advocate with People First and subject of Allan Sutherland's cycle of transcription poems 'Proud'

The first half of this event included poems by local disabled people… 'I come to say what poets must…'  brought together by Unsung, a Liverpool city-wide project celebrating the bicentenary, social actions and legacy of Edward Rushton. 

We heard some very moving poems about life… 'a distant relative…' disability… 'equality is a word not much heard…' and exclusion… 'an object of silence beyond earshot…' 

Allan Sutherland’s performance of 'Proud', a cycle of transcription poems, was the highlight of the evening for me.

One of four sequences from ‘Neglected Voices’, a work about disabled people’s experience, 'Proud' is Jennifer Taylor’s life story, taken from her words, transcribed into poetry.

On the page the poem is both powerful and heartbreaking. Sutherland’s performance brings an extra dimension of affirmation and validity, adding to the authenticity of the storyteller’s voice which, somewhat contradictorily, comes through even more strongly in the retelling by another person.

...I want every mother
whose got learning difficulties,
I want every mother to know,
with learning difficulties,
how it feels to take your kids off you,
you know, be strong,
don’t think about it too much,
keep living your life to the full.
If you’re going to get upset,
don’t try, try to not think about it too much
and just carry on leading your life really
That’s what I did, I’m doing now...

Please click on this link to read an article about Owen Lowery's Carcanet Press collection 'Otherwise Unchanged' on the Arts Council England website
digital portrait of author Owen Lowery

Digital portrait of poet Owen Lowery

Authenticity was perhaps the theme of the evening and, arguably, the whole point of the Unlimited commissions, of which Owen Lowery’s 'Otherwise Unchanged' is one. This was an overwhelmingly impressive performance of thoughtful poetry that gripped and tugged in all directions. It was impossible to remain unaffected.

Alongside the poetry readings, on a large screen placed centre stage, a specially commissioned film showed images of war, rehabilitation and art, echoing and illustrating the poems with rather too much exactitude for me, personally. In contrast to Lowery’s almost statuesque presence, the film was an incredibly busy, multi-textured montage including hand-drawn drawn animation, World War One footage, abstract shapes and lines, still photographs, and paintings.

And there was music. A battle of the senses was, I’m sure, an unintended consequence, but at some point I needed to close my eyes to hear the words. Something had to give.Yet for many people the film and soundtrack provided depth and richness to the performance as a whole.

Placed centre stage right, his wife Jayne at his side assisting, Lowery read selections from his acclaimed first collection 'Otherwise Unchanged' published by Carcanet in 2012.

Lowery’s poetry reflects his interests that are many and varied, including art and sport. Content ranges from the global to the personal, military to literary, visual to musical.

'Morning Call' is a quiet and accessible poem about Jayne’s relationship with her father, aspects of which run parallel to her relationship with her husband. She cares for both. It’s a 'thank you prayer'. With her he can be relaxed and real.

…it’s you
he’s thanking the blue space above
the ceiling for…

Unlike 'Morning Call', some of the poems are not so comfortable, or as easily understood. For example, Lowery has a fascination for the nightmarish paintings of Paula Rego, which present contemporary re-imaginings drawn from fairytale and folklore.

'Paula Rego’s Dybbuk' describes the image of an umbrella-black bird with a maribou’s bill in the act of devouring its lover... 

… A dead picture-frame
falls and cracks her lover’s face
into a glass kiss …

Carefully crafted, meticulous yet uncluttered and understated, Lowery’s is poetry that touches. These are words that have a hard time leaving the reader unchanged.

Inspired, informed and influenced by Primo Levy, Paula Rego and the war poets Keith Douglas and Edward Thomas, to name but a few, these poems need to be read again and again. They deserve silence!

I need to concentrate.


Please click on this link to read an article about Owen Lowery's Carcanet Press collection 'Otherwise Unchanged' on the Arts Council England website

Jennifer Taylor was co-author of a book published by People First Lambeth and Shaping Our Lives Network called 'We Are Not Stupid'