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Partially Sighted Poet Focuses on Visual Impairment and Parenthood in New Book

Headshot of woman with short hair looking in the distance.

Image shows poet Nuala Watt.

Glasgow-based poet Nuala Watt (39) aims to show that disabled people “have important things to say” in her latest book of poems, ‘The Department of Work and Pensions Assesses a Jade Fish’.

The collection is due to be released on Tuesday, February 20th and reflects on topics such as visual impairment, wider disability, welfare reform and disabled parenthood.

Poet and author of the new collection, Nuala Watt, says:

“I'm registered partially sighted, which is secondary to cerebral palsy. I also have epilepsy and various other diagnoses. I have problems with seeing distance, depth, eye-hand coordination and print size, although I can read print. I have no lower field of vision. I often don't notice people are smiling at me until they are about to stop, and I have difficulties tracking fast movement.

“Portrayals of disability as part of a fulfilling life, as opposed to an overwhelming tragedy are rare. I couldn't find my life in poetry. So I put it in this book of poems.

“My collection features poems about visual impairment, wider disability, welfare reform and disabled parenthood. This last theme is particularly important to me as there are almost no portrayals of disabled parents in culture. There are lots of us, but we are invisible.”

Nuala’s curiosity about her vision has led her to explore these themes in her latest work,

“I don’t say ‘sight loss’ because I was born with the sight I've got,” she says. “I don't feel that I lost anything. However, I think 'sight puzzlement' is a better term for me. I have always wondered what it is I cannot see. I understand theoretically, but I'll never know from experience.

“I've always loved language and poems. I began writing because I was curious about visual impairment. What can I see? What can other people see? Who knows? I also write because disabled people, especially blind people, often appear in poems as opportunities for sighted people to have epiphanies. It's exploitative and infuriating.

“But this is slowly changing - there are now lots of disabled poets - Rachael Boast, Daniel Sluman, Raymond Antrobus, Petra Kuppers, but we have a long way to go.”

“I would like other disabled people to find themselves reflected in my poems. We are here. We are valuable and we have important things to say. My book also contains poems that are about things unconnected to disability, because disabled people have wide lives that are not simply defined by their medical conditions.”

And what challenges has Nuala faced in having her poems published?

“A lot of the barriers I faced in getting the book published were universal to all poets. It takes a long time to write enough poems for a book and to have enough of them published in magazines that a publisher will choose your manuscript.

“I am fantastically lucky that I can read print- I use very powerful lighting- because a lot of poetry only exists in print. This is slowly changing because some publishers produce eBooks, but some cannot afford it. Many poetry presses are tiny.

“Much of the poetry available on audiobooks consists of popular anthologies. These are good but might not give you a sense of a wide range of contemporary poetry.

I would love to encourage more poetry books to be published simultaneously in alternative formats, and for other visually impaired poets to keep reading and listening to poetry."

*’The Department of Work and Pensions Assesses a Jade Fish’ can be preordered by visiting: