Photo © Siobhan Harvey
We recently kicked off a series here on the blog in which we talk to erstwhile Structo authors, finding out what they’ve been up to since appearing in the pages of the magazine. We would usually wait more than one issue before catching up, but Siobhan Harvey just had her issue eight poem ‘Considering the Autistic Boy as a Cloud’ selected for the Best New Zealand Poems anthology, so it seemed like a fitting moment.
How long have you been writing poetry?
I have been writing poetry since I was 16 years old. When I was at school, creative writing began to be considered as an accepted part of the curriculum. In the journey towards O-Level/GSCE exams, my English teacher asked us to write stories. From somewhere unknown, somewhere I am (for various reasons) unable to name but can ‘touch’, narratives, long and complex poured out of me. Neat short stories. Epic, cliff-hanger mysteries. I wrote them all. In the journey towards my A-Levels, we were encouraged to make the inventive leap into poetry, and I fell helter-skelter into the form. Within a few years and a move to London, I was spending much of my time at the South Bank Centre, at the Poetry Library, reading, writing and gathering poetry competition entry forms. To my surprise, to my wonder, poem publications in magazines and competitions followed.
Can you share the back-story to ‘Considering the Autistic Boy as a Cloud’?
This is an extremely long and complex back-story, and one which, as yet, I know hasn’t achieved its resolution – because that’s the nature, the essence of living with a child who has Autism/Aspergers/ADHD/Autism Spectrum Disorder. The expedition of child and parent through this (I dislike the word) “disorder” is incremental and on-going. But for the sake of concision, I can say that at the age of seven years old, after five years in which I knew instinctively something was different (not wrong, or defective, just different) about my son, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum. If that seems straightforward, the path to reaching that diagnosis, and indeed the path we have trodden thereafter has been very complex and nuanced. For instance, my partner and I were told by educators (kindergarten teachers) that our four year old son was not playing “normally” with other children. It wasn’t long before we were told that our son was “gifted”. But the essence of the definition over that which is “normal” and that which is “other” stayed with me and became so deeply apparent to me when my son started school. By then, at the end of each school day he was dragging me to a local park to look up at the heavens and lose himself in decoding the pictures presented to him by the clouds. And this indeed seemed deeply “different” from his peers who dragged their parents down to the local park to play swings, slides, see-saw and, indeed, play with one another. At this point, I made the additional realisation that though my son’s nephology was his creative venture, it was also a vehicle by which he became an outsider, divorced from the everyday world of his peers. The motif of the cloud-watcher who (a truism it seems to me relevant to all hobbyists) in his fixation becomes something akin to the object he is fascinated by was the spring board into ‘Considering the Autistic Child as a Cloud’. Continue reading