We (Gary and Tia) are exploring the uses of poetry in ethnographic research. This is different from writing, for its own sake, poetry about what happens in, or outside of, the field. This is also different from seeking to share ‘research poems’ with readers or listeners as part of a process of ‘public engagement’. We are – some might say, overly – cautious about writing poems expressly for these purposes. We think that they can become:
Such a deliberate step backwards
To create an object…
By contrast, poetry is part of our desire to develop ‘gentle’ research methods and to contribute to conversations around what ‘gentle’ methods might mean and do. ….
We think social research often makes too-hasty a leap to interpretation, to attribution of character and causality. We think, by contrast, there is much to gain and learn by being ‘gentle’, by which we mean taking time with a scene, staying ‘with’ a person or group, and zooming in to examine a moment (perhaps listening repeatedly to the micro-features of a sound recording). We want to slow the research process down. And we think poetry has a role to play in this slowness.
We’re interested in where attempting the poem-writing process takes us, what it might reveal (to us) about our research sites and research relationships, and how poetry might draw out new and potentially important features of what we are seeking to describe and understand. We are equally interested in how writing poems, because of the demands that literary forms make of their makers, might not only draw out, but also potentially traduce or over-write the greater richness of what is otherwise there to be noticed.
Which has led us to ask, to what extent is it possible to harness the dynamics of poetry writing so as to lead to further reflections about a scene or site or set of relationships. If all forms of writing involve compromise, if all of them produce an ‘object’ then writing in any genre –a letter or research report, field notes, novels, and poems – can be dangerous. Dangerous – and also necessary, if we want to place our thoughts in a shared domain, to capture what we want to know about and dwell upon. The question is then how to tell about and how modes of telling all have consequences… How, then, to use the various lenses that writing affords to learn more – in this case about people, music and care.