EMC Question Words with Katie (Tom) Walters, author of "My Body is a Resource I'm Willing to Expend"
"makes the traumatic bloom into the poetic" ~Roger Robinson
My Body Is A Resource I Am Willing To Expend is a story of becoming: learning what it means to care and be cared for, to love and be loved. In 2016, Katie (Tom) Walters caught fresher’s flu and never quite recovered, developing a severely disabling, incurable disease. This debut collection exposes the process of acceptance, reconfiguring their relationships and finding their place in an increasingly inaccessible world. From their bed, they rebel in a world of sprawling plants and transcendental tenderness, where righteous crip pride collides with rage, grief, and mourning.
WHO is Katie (Tom) Walters?
Katie (Tom) Walters is an autistic and physically disabled writer creating performance poetry and long-form poetic storytelling for theatre. They established their career in the arts as a performance poet, winning the SLAMbassadors national youth slam in 2014, but have since expanded their practice to include page poetry and theatre. They explore their lived experience of complex social issues through the use of extended metaphor, and have a particular interest in the relationships between disabled people and their environments, as well as themes of sickness, nature, and metamorphosis. WHAT do you write? Over the years I've written in all sorts of forms. For a long time I really wanted to be a screenwriter! But whatever I do, I always seem to come back to poetry. "My Body is a Resource I am Willing to Expend" is my debut collection, and it's centered around the process of coming to terms with chronic illness. I'm a very different person now to who I was when I first got sick, and all that messy growth, the ways that it changed my relationships with other people and my surroundings, is something that I felt a need to document. I'm also really interested in thinking about what it means to engage with nature as a disabled person. There's this history of viewing disabled people as somehow unnatural, seeing disability as a metaphor for a disconnect from nature. That couldn't be further from my experience; getting sick made the natural world a much more significant part of my life. So a lot of my writing, both generally and in the collection, is focused on that.
WHY did you write "My Body is a Resource I'm Willing to Expend?"
This feels like such a boring answer, but it really is true; I write because there's something inside me that needs to. It's how I process difficult things, and also a really big part of how I communicate. Being autistic means I often have a difficult time making myself understood, and poetry is a way for me to express things that I find really difficult to talk about. I didn't write these poems with the intention of them being a book, I just wrote them for me. But I'm choosing to collate and share them now because I've arrived at point in my life that I've been working towards for a long time, where I'm able to accept my sickness, accept all the things I've lost, and allow them to inform this new life that I'm building. And I think that process of becoming is something that I couldn't even imagine when I first got sick. I thought I would be mourning for the rest of my life. So I hope that maybe, wherever they are on their own journey, other sick people might see themselves in the narrative of this collection, and find some peace. HOW did the idea for "My Body is a Resource I'm Willing to Expend" come about? I have a very clear memory of having the thought that would end up being this book. I was trying to get to an open mic night, walking to the train station after a full day of study. And I felt like shit. I was sick, in a lot of pain, I had been for a long time. I suddenly became quite aware of the fact that I was using myself up. I wasn't going to be able to keep doing this. But I also knew I wasn't going to stop? At the time I thought that was somehow right or noble, even though the thought made me feel hollow. It was a really awful headspace to be in, and I desperately wanted other people to understand. Eventually I wrote what would become the titular poem in my collection. Back then it was very bleak, because I didn't expect my situation to change. But today I can recognise it as an important turning point, the first step towards recognising that my life maybe wasn't going to look the way I'd imagined it. That's reflected in the collection; it's at the centre of the book, everything else wraps around it.
WHEN do you usually write? I like to write in little windows of time where there's nothing else I could reasonably be expected to do. Those windows have varied a lot over the time that I've been working on this collection; for example when I was at uni, I tended to arrive really early for my lectures (totally by accident, my time management is abysmal), and I would write while I waited for them to start. Usually now those times are either on trains or in the absolute dead of night, and I've not been catching the train much these days because of the pandemic. So mostly I'm writing in bed on my phone at 3 or 4am, trying not to wake up my partner. I'm definitely capable of making myself write more consistently if I have a deadline or something coming up. But late night is what comes naturally. Fundamentally poetry is something that I do for myself, so I like that nobody else is awake and that there are no other demands for my attention. WHERE can readers find your book?
Disclaimer: Every EMC interview series seeks to promote the artist and their featured writing and is in no way an endorsement of any of said artist's services, opinions or other work outside of this feature.