Acclaimed Melbourne poet awarded inaugural Health Transformation Lab Fellowship

Melbourne-based poet and essayist Andy Jackson has been awarded the Health Transformation Lab’s inaugural ‘Writing the Future of Health’ Fellowship.

The widely acclaimed poet, who lives with a genetic disorder called Marfan Syndrome and is known for his visceral poetry about bodily difference, will receive an award of $25,000 and a desk in RMIT’s Health Transformation Lab for a period of six months.

During that time, Jackson will work with the lab to consider and reflect on the question ‘What will the future of health look like?’ and produce a creative and imaginative perspective and project in response.

Jackson’s winning application – ‘Collab/Oration’ – will centre on the creation of a series of collaborative poems, written in partnership with other poets and writers with a disability, and will seek to interrogate how a future health system can be responsive to the differential effects of pandemics and natural disasters on those who are already vulnerable.

Jackson said he jumped at the opportunity to apply for the Fellowship, when submissions opened in November last year. 

“This has been my passion for as long as I can remember,” Jackson said. 

“Through my own experience with the medical system over a long period of time, expanding this idea of what health is, is hugely important and I saw the Fellowship as a timely opportunity to explore this further by listening to a range of voices,” he said.

Acclaimed poet Andy Jackson has been awarded the Health Transformation Lab's inaugural Writing the Future of Health Fellowship.Acclaimed poet Andy Jackson has been awarded the Health Transformation Lab’s inaugural Writing the Future of Health Fellowship.

He said working closely with other people who identify as disabled will be critical to his work at the Health Transformation Lab.

“I have a very strong sense that disabled people and immuno-compromised people are experts in their own lives and have a critical role to play in finding solutions to the problems they come up against.” 

“There’s a real expertise in their lived experience that can’t be replaced,” said Jackson, who recently published his fifth book of poetry, Human Looking, which was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry.  

Jackson also works as a mentor for emerging poets, particularly those with a disability, and teaches poetry in RMIT’s Associate Degree of Professional Writing and Editing.

His poems have been published in dozens of literary journals, including Meanjin, Southerly, and Australian Poetry Journal, in newspapers, including The Age and The Australian, and anthologies including Growing Up Disabled in Australia, and numerous editions of Best Australian Poems.

Jackson has also appeared as a panellist at high-profile arts and literary festivals, including the Melbourne Writers Festival and Brisbane Writers Festival, and on radio, including 3RRR, 3CR and ABC Radio National.

The Health Transformation Lab’s Director Professor Vishaal Kishore said Jackson’s collaborative approach to the Fellowship project and his desire to bring to the fore the voices of those with a disability with lived experience of the health system, made him a valuable recipient of the inaugural ‘Writing the Future of Health’ Fellowship. 

“Collaboration is at the heart of what we do at the Health Transformation Lab, and there has never been a more critical time to bring imagination, creativity, deep insights and a diversity of voices and ideas to health systems and to the health of populations,” Professor Kishore said.

“Health innovation is not just the domain of public policy experts, economists, or designers. Transformative ideas – and transformative collaborations – must and do come from all directions. And the creative arts have a critical role to play in imagining and bringing forth exciting and positive futures.”

“Andy’s approach to this Fellowship brings all of the above, as well as his own lived experience with the health system, together with his reputation for producing poetry that is both confronting and illuminating,” he said.

“We can’t wait to start working closely with Andy to start sharing ideas and insights, asking questions of each other and others that spark meaningful conversations and innovations to help solve some of our most deeply entrenched health issues,” Professor Kishore said. 

The Health Transformation Lab’s ‘Writing the Future of Health’ Fellowship is part of RMIT’s VHESIF Program – a program funded under the Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund (VHESIF) – and is part of RMIT’s exciting social innovation agenda.

Jackson will present his Collab/Oration project at the completion of his six-month fellowship, at a public gala event later this year.

“One of the things I want to investigate during this time is the idea of ‘going back to normal,’ which is a term we use a lot since COVID-19,” Jackson said.

“The thing is, normal for many vulnerable people and people living with a disability was already quite difficult, and I think there is a real opportunity to work collaboratively and creatively to find solutions that ensure that normal is better than it was before.” 

Story: Rachel Wells