Dave Steele Performs at the Manchester Cathedral

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By Michael D Beckwith (Manchester Cathedral) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons A view of the nave inside Manchester Cathedral

Caption: Nave in Manchester Cathedral, England by Michael D. Beckwith [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Editor's Note: During this time of holiday celebrations, Dave Steele brings us his poignant performance of his poetry reading at the Manchester Cathedral in England.

Performance at the Manchester Cathedral

By Dave Steele

I was recently invited to speak at an event by a local sight loss charity. I have spoken in front of large crowds for many years, but as soon as I was invited to attend this one, I knew it would be special.

Not only was it for an important celebration, it was also in a special place close to my heart. Henshaws Society for Blind People is a charity supporting people who live with sight loss and a whole range of disabilities across the northwest of England. They are based in my hometown of Manchester, and this year they are celebrating 180 years of making a real difference in people's lives. On December 2nd, they were to hold their annual Christmas Carols by candlelight service in the stunning setting of Manchester Cathedral, and as part of an evening, which included visually impaired performers and local musicians, I would be reciting poetry from my books, "Stand By Me RP" volumes one and two.

Dave Steele holding his book, Stand with Me RP

Performing Live

I’ve recited my poetry to people all over the world online, but it’s rare that I do it live in front of an audience. I receive messages every day telling me of the impact my words have made in people’s lives and the emotions that are created by my message in verse but rarely do I get the opportunity to witness the impact first hand.

On the night of the performance, I sat in my seat holding tightly to my wife’s hand as I desperately tried to swallow my nerves. The Cathedral was packed to the rafters with over 600 people enjoying their first feeling of Yuletide festivities. As the time for me to speak edged closer, I remembered everything I’d achieved to bring me to this point. I reminded myself of my mission to dedicate my life to helping others who struggle to come to terms with vision loss.

Reading a Poem That Means the World to Me

When I was introduced by the Dean of the Cathedral, I clicked into autopilot. I took my time with my words and, as I used my little remaining vision to look at my audience, I soaked in every second to store in my memory bank for future days when the haze consumes my eyes. By the time I’d finished reciting my first poem entitled "The Stranger," I felt in command and at ease. Although I knew I would be emotional for my final poem, I was reading one of my favorites from my second book entitled "Shift This Cloud." This is a poem I’d written for my 4-year-old son, Austin, who due to the particular type of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) I have, stands a one in two chance of developing it when he’s older. This poem means the world to me—so much so that I’ve had a couple of lines from it tattooed on my arm.

As I began to read and the words started to flow from my heart and soul, I watched something that was truly incredible to me. I saw strangers with tears in their eyes; I saw people I’d never met reliving their fears through my words; men and women who knew little of sight loss placing themselves in my shoes feeling every pain of guilt I carry and every ounce of strength I use to show my family all that you can achieve despite living with an invisible disability. I was holding it all together until I spoke those words that are inked on my skin. "My son be proud, we’ll shift this cloud and dance in heavy rain. I’ll show you all that’s possible, strong heart and long white cane." As the words echoed around the Cathedral, I momentarily glanced at my wife and caught her look of total pride as the tears rolled down her cheeks. Instantly my eyes filled and a lump appeared in my throat. I stumbled my words, but it only added to the emotion of my performance. As I walked the short distance back to my seat, the applause filled my ear, and I knew that tonight would stay with me forever.

Transcript and Description of Dave Steele’s Poetry Reading at Manchester Cathedral

Video

Video of Dave Steele Poetry Reading at Manchester Cathedral

Transcript

(Description: Dave walks onto stage with his white dog while the audience applauds.)

Dave: Merry Christmas!

Audience: Merry Christmas!

Dave: We start here today beginning the festivities and what a brilliant way to start off. I want to say a few words I’ve written down here. You know, I’ve been all over the world, but this is my hometown so it means much more doing it for you guys. Music and poetry have a unique way of telling a story unlike no other. It can heal the heart and touch the soul like nothing else in this life.

When I began to lose my sight just over three years ago, I lost my mobility, my independence, and my confidence. But the biggest thing retinitis pigmentosa took from me was my purpose.

But as I began to adapt to my new life with this ever shrinking tunneled sight, I discovered a unique way to regain everything I’d lost by telling my story through verse. My poetry has since been used by visually impaired people around the world to help them realize that they aren’t alone with the things they go through whilst also being a tool for them to communicate to their loved ones just how they feel when they struggle to find the words themselves.

I now dedicate my life to helping others to come to terms with their own journey into blindness. I’d like to read to you tonight two poems from my books Stand By Me RP, volumes one and two. The first one I want to read to you is called "The Stranger."

The Stranger by Dave Steele

Today a stranger asked me,
What has blindness done to me?
Has it limited the plans I've made
or the things I hoped would be?
Has it forced me now to settle
on a life that's second best?
Has it made me give up lots of things
since I failed this blindness test?
Do I still have aspirations,
special places dream to go?
Is there any point in beauty
if the eyes won't work to show?
But my answer came so quickly,
not a thought considered twice,
I am happy for this blindness
for the way it's changed my life.
It has taught me what's important.
Shown me who my real friends are,
and I wouldn't change the things I've learned
just to get back in my car.
I have met amazing people
since this RP took my sight.
We share in common struggles
joint together through this plight.
Though my retina's are dying,
my minds vision has increased.
Each day I'm making memories
for long after vision ceased.
So never offer pity
for the broken sense I've lost
cause I feel I have gained more
than the price this blindness cost.

Thank you.

(Description:Loud applause)

Dave: So, my poems, which, well before I started writing poetry, I started losing my sight three years ago, I’ve never been a poet in my life. And when I started losing my sight, it was my way of opening up and opening my heart and being able to still help other. And it’s just about three years now since I was diagnosed with RP; I’ve now written over 500 poems in about of three years. And most times when I read them, I don’t know where the words come from. And I’ve never written a poem that’s taken longer than 20 minutes because I believe that if it doesn’t come from the heart, it’s not worth writing. Which leads me to this poem. I’d like to finish with this one, and this is a very (someone coughs in audience) emotional poem for me. At the time I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa like I have, you know at the moment, it’s what they call a vision disability. So to look at me, you probably wouldn’t know that I have vision impairment. I cannot see out of the left eye now, and I have five degrees vision in my right eye, which means it’s like looking though a straw basically. But the hardest part of having RP is the hereditary side of things because there’s a one in six chance that my children will develop it, and there is no way against it. There’s no treatment or cure. This poem I wrote when I was finishing up my second book. When I was finishing up my second book, I wrote this, and I thought I don’t need to go in there, and I stopped myself—Austin, who's four years old. And the fears I have and the guilt I carry for him but also how I dedicate my life now to showing him that if blindness does affect him when he’s older that he can do amazing things and obviously life after that. So this one’s called "Shift This Cloud."

Shift This Cloud by Dave Steele

How do I break the news to what I may have done to you?
Won't know for sure,
but doctors say the odds are one in two.
I look in to your eyes
and watch for signs
I hope aren't there.
Pray this RP
will end in me,
no faulty gene is shared.
This tunneled world I live in,
hope one day won't be your view.
Don't follow in my steps or place foot inside my shoe.
The battle for acceptance
will be just a story told.
With perfect sight,
not hurt by light,
clear vision break the mold.
I carry heavy guilt
through sleepless nights and secret tears.
I wait to know the answer,
ticking clock of RP's fears.
But if in future blindness
does come knocking at your door,
I'll lead you by example,
show that life is so much more.
My son be proud
we'll shift this cloud and dance in heavy rain.
I'll show you all that's possible
strong heart and long white cane.

(Description: pauses. Under breath: "This is getting hard.")

Four words that travel round the world. Sorry, I got lost there for a second…

With poetry raise awareness,
this will be my legacy.
Four words that travel round the world,
my "Stand By Me RP."
So years from now,
when you're fully grown,
if blindness burden shared,
just look at what your Dad’s achieved,
so you'll be more prepared.

(Description: applause and cheers from audience. Dave walks off the stage.)

Additional Information

Read about Dave's books.

Raising Awareness About Living with Low Vision Through Poetry


Topics:
Arts and Leisure
Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Retinitis Pigmentosa
Social Life and Recreation
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