I’ve started writing assistance / on my shopping lists // In these bemused aisles / can I be disabled if there’s / no-one to compare me to? – Stephen Lightbown
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About Stephen Lightbown
Stephen Lightbown was born in Blackburn, Lancashire. In 1996, aged 16, he experienced a life-changing accident and is now paralysed from below the waist. Lightbown writes extensively but not exclusively about his life as a wheelchair user. He teaches yoga and has a wealth of knowledge and experience on how poets write about the relationship with their bodies. Lightbown is a champion for disability arts and accessibility.
He has spoken at numerous events and festivals including Shambala, Womad, Verve Poetry Festival, Lyra Bristol Poetry and in San Antonio, Texas.
Lightbown’s first poetry collection is Only Air (Burning Eye Books, 2019). His second collection, The Last Custodian, was published by Burning Eye Books in 2021. A volume of children’s poetry and two picture books will be published by Troika Books in 2023. His poems have been anthologised by Verve Poetry Press, Hachette Children’s Group, The Poetry Business and Squares & Rebels.
In the poems featured here we are in the presence of a dystopian, existential journal. Time, place, relationships, reflection, metaphor, image, drama, humour, socio-political commentary, the commonplace and the extraordinary all find expression. His experience as a wheelchair user, woven into the writing, is a wake-up call. The recordings are enhanced by Lightbown’s firm, clear delivery.
The recordings start with a mediation on sugar water dribbled on a beard and arrive at ‘(a) tag line: / a life hanging in the balance.’ The segments are both allusive and direct – in ‘Day 2’ we find a letter signed with an X but the name of the recipient is redacted. Yet in the same segment the sentiment is clear in the final stanza ‘This is goodbye. Today, I leave. / I will not take your name / out there with me’. Wry humour keeps company with sharp observation, ‘I look at the paper. / This historical document, / vacuum of pointlessness, / it told us nothing about the poison to come. // Still, the crossword / will give me / something to do.’. The variety in subject matter, tone and import across each segment is a key feature of The Last Custodian. It travels widely.
The poems wrong-foot us deliciously and are impossible to gainsay; we do not know what to expect next, how the scenes, events and insights will play out, but they are compelling. Each day is an odyssey of itself, and towards the whole. These recordings demonstrate a considerable talent, a voice we need to hear more of.
Recordings provided to the Poetry Archive by Stephen Lightbown, made with the support of an Arts Council grant, August 4th, 2021 at DBS Institute of Sound and Digital Technologies, Bristol.