Serious injury & disability
Poetry launches new career
A traumatic brain injury has led Jamie Trower to put his thoughts into words – with fantastic results.
“I’m still buzzing. That was the best night of my life!”
On the evening of 16 July, Jamie was met by family, friends, supporters and well-wishers at Auckland’s Wilson Centre. The occasion: the launch of his first book of poetry, Anatomy.
The crowd laughed and cried when Jamie regaled them with stories of how the poems and book had come to fruition. He mixed excitedly with the crowd, then settled down to the serious business of signing his books for eager buyers.
Anatomy is Jamie’s first published collection of poems. They tell of his experiences and feelings when he was rehabilitating from a traumatic brain injury, aged just nine.
Moving to ‘paradise’
Jamie and his parents, older brother Jack and grandparents immigrated to New Zealand from the United Kingdom in 1995.
A ski accident, where Jamie crashed head-first into rocks, changed Jamie’s and his family’s lives forever in September 2003.
Badly injured, Jamie was airlifted to Waikato Hospital then swiftly transferred to Starship Children’s Hospital. Deeply comatose, he spent two weeks in intensive care and a further six weeks in a neurological ward under round-the-clock care. He dreamt of colours, lights, hills and expansive oceans – visions that would be the inspiration for Anatomy.
Jamie was then transferred to the Wilson Centre on Auckland’s North Shore, where his grandparents stayed to help in his rehabilitation. He had to learn how to walk, talk, read and write again – although a significant and constant tremor down his right side meant he learnt to write with his left hand, as opposed to his preferred right. Sadly, Jamie’s days of football and kayaking (his favourite sports) were over.
Discovering the power of words
A couple of months into his rehabilitation, Jamie’s past teacher lent him an old typewriter to help with his words. He started with basic sentences and eventually began writing short stories about characters and events based in the landscapes he’d dreamt about in his coma. He also wrote about how he was feeling, trapped in rehab “like a bird in a cage”.
Jamie and his family lived at the Wilson Centre for two years. The lingering effects of his injury were a constant tremor in his right side and short-term memory problems – but nothing was going to stop his family trying to help him lead as normal a life as possible. That started with going back to primary school – at first for a few hours each morning but eventually full time with the help of Debbie, his teacher aide.
Jamie moved on to intermediate school and then to college, where for the first time he was taunted by other students. When the intolerance escalated to verbal abuse and even spitting, Jamie decided to address it – and for the Year 10 speech competition he wrote and presented a speech about disability, normality, treating people right and leaving the bullying out. The main message was: “I am normal, you are normal, we are normal! We all have disabilities, and abilities!” That message seemed to change attitudes for the better, and gave Jamie a rare insight into the power of words as an agent of change.
Transforming words into poetry
After graduating from college and passing all his NCEA examinations, Jamie decided to tackle the next obstacle: university. Unfortunately that meant saying farewell to Debbie, his trusted companion for many years, but they still keep in touch. He’s now studying for a Bachelor of Arts, double majoring in English and drama, and hopes to complete a postgraduate teaching diploma so that he can teach those subjects.
Jamie found his first year of university study a bit overwhelming, so he’s slowed the pace a little. Writing with his left hand is still a struggle, but Student Disability Services has supported him with note-takers as well as access to a separate accommodation during exams.
It was a creative writing course in his second year that inspired Jamie to write poetry. “I was finding the right words for everything. I realised I’d really found my own voice.” He goes on to say how he associates words and music, or lyrical poetry, with colours – a rare neurological condition called synaesthesia. Jamie attests this to experiencing such an array of colours while in his coma.
Making his publishing mark
On passing his creative writing course Jamie started writing a collection of war poems entitled ‘Unknown Brother’. The idea of publication was very distant, and seemed almost impossible, but Jamie’s determination and curiosity sent him online, where he found a staggering number of poets writing about war.
“It took me a couple of weeks to realise that I’d been living in a battlefield for the previous 10 or so years. ‘Disability’ as an idea was also a ‘war’ with myself.
Jamie showed his poems to his family, and they agreed they were a good ending to an epic story. “I knew Jamie was good with words, but his poems showed a dark side that I hadn’t seen before,” says his Mum.
Encouraged by the response from his family, Jamie set about finding a publisher and chose Makaro Press. He emailed his manuscript to Mary McCallum and followed up persistently until she said she’d love to have him on board.
All the editing and design took place by phone and email, with Jamie taking a strong interest in the layout and collaborating with Mary on the book’s size and paper. A friend from college, Kwok Yi Lee, contributed artwork for the front cover.
Jamie and his family arranged the book launch function themselves and the Wilson Centre was delighted to host it. A week beforehand a box of the published books arrived at Jamie’s house. “It was the best day ever!” he says. “Being a published poet hasn’t really sunk in yet. I can’t wait to see my book in the bookshops. That will be so surreal.”
Like a copy of Jamie’s book?
Jamie’s book Anatomy is available at all good booksellers, or you can order a copy for $25 at www.makaropress.co.nz/buy-online
Wellington-based Makaro Press publishes NZ fiction, poetry, and creative memoir—including books for children and young adults.
Mary McCallum & Paul Stewart
PO Box 41 032, Ghuznee Street
Te Aro, Wellington 6011
Phone: 027 600 3313 (Mary) or 027 335 4675 (Paul)
Disability services for university students
All universities offer a range of assistance and services for students with a disability. Check out what’s available at the university you’re thinking of attending.