At the age of nine, Jamie Trower suffered a traumatic brain injury. He spent months in a coma, and two subsequent years living in the Wilson Centre in Auckland undergoing rehabilitation. In 2015 he published Anatomy, a powerful collection of poetry which chronicles his changed life. Jamie explains how entering the ‘separate cosmos’ of poetry helped him find a way home to himself.
once there was a boy
& he called himself bird,
& he had christmas tree lights
on the tips of his fingers
so he could find his
light through the darkness
Poetry is a wordsmith’s muse.
Like sculpting a statue, a muse inspires and encompasses an artistry, grace and pride that introduces a writer’s manifesto in a single, infinite moment, and holds a beauty, and a magic, and an untimely everything.
Poetry is my realisation of emotional energy. I started writing Anatomy on the backbone of my muse of disability. It seemed I had a block of marble and a chisel, although I was definitely no Michelangelo.
After sustaining a brain injury in 2003, I had to relearn everything again in rehab: how to walk, talk and eat; I had to relearn numbers and the alphabet. I was a newborn child in a nine year old body. My former primary school teacher let me borrow a typewriter so I could practice my words.
It became a ritual. Every afternoon I sat at my tiny desk, in my wheelchair, and wrote for an hour. First, I wrote simple things, describing what I saw around me, and other tiny observations. After my first year or so in rehabilitation, I started writing about how I felt in myself – how I perceived big-wide-world ‘normal people’, and how being ‘disabled’ and ‘different’ paralleled to them.
Why did I get those bitter ‘wheelchair stares’ when out in public?
Why did people speak loudly when they talked to me, and enunciate their words as though I didn’t understand?
At the time, I never really understood the reason for these behaviour modifications. As a naïve ten year-old, I was under the impression that, with regard to people’s perception of me, there would no problem attached to my injury. “Everybody will treat me normally,” I thought. How wrong was I?
This, without knowing it, was becoming my muse. Every time I returned to that tattered typewriter, I wrote about how different I felt in the world. I trusted that typewriter – the words never judged me, or laughed at me. They never reprimanded me, or pitied me. They were just there, on the page, staring back – being everything.
When I started writing poetry at the University of Auckland as part of a creative writing course, I realised that the pieces I had written during my recovery in the Wilson Centre were interlinked, and that they spoke with wide mouths and snapping teeth. I went back and revised the words I had written on that typewriter, and transmogrified them into Anatomy.
That muse of disability spoke to me and is the central heartbeat of the book. Throughout rehab, I was scared and intimidated by the idea of disability, which had latched itself onto me. Through poetry I learned, and am still learning, how to shake off doubts, embrace my own skin and welcome difference.
From my perspective, poetry, in itself, is its own cosmos, separate to any other creative art. I find it an awakening, a reminding and a realisation.
Jamie Trower is an actor, poet and motivational speaker. He has published poetry in Poetry NZ, as well as taking part in several Poetry Slams across Auckland. His inaugural poetry collection, Anatomy (Wellington: Mākaro Press) was published in 2015.