This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

> > > Wings are Giving Out by Sean Burn

By Colin Hambrook

abstract image

When Fingers Point at the Moon by Sean Burn

Wings are Giving Out is Sean Burn’s third full length collection from Skrev Press. The compilation takes you on epic journeys into uncharted territories. It contains seven long poems commissioned and toured over the last ten years.

Texts from the award winning Tattooing Lorca were podcast by the National Disability Arts Forum, turned into a multi-media presentation and a short film and taken to different parts of the world in various guises.

Tattooing Lorca imparts the story of a sectioning that began with a trip to the tattooist and ended up in the bin. Sean tells everyday stories of the kind of abuse of human rights that happens on psych wards.

He narrates the events surrounding an episode of enforced medication. It began with a request to a member of staff for a marker pen to cover a swastika that has been graffitied on the ward: “I ask, am ignored, instead / medication she orders … fingers the red crash button / daring, staring me, I flex fists / feel ‘em starting to pump / turn, punch out the wall / but still that nazi logo grins.”

He talks about the prejudice and discrimination that determines the power balance: “this whole thing about being too dangerous / because, what? I speak minds, don’t / accept their words as any more / than a story, a version, a maybe / and demanding to be heard too / but they choke you down.”

It is a story of being beaten up, eaten up and churned out by the system. After being thrown out on the streets with nowhere to go: “this housing association offers support / I don’t need support, I need somewhere to live / don’t need a psychiatrist, just something that works.”

Almost everyone I know who has survived the mental health system has done so by hanging on to their ability to find humour in spite of the darkest moments. Sean finds truths about medication in the most random of places: “computer spellcheck suggests flagrant – largest – legacy as replacement for largactyl and transalpine – pineapple – rapine for olanzapine, haloperidol becomes imperialism and lorazepam is deplorable overgraze, an old computer always turned freud to fraud.”

Tattooing Lorca is one of seven epic poems published in Wings are Giving Out. Many are concerned with literary and cultural figures.

Voltairechoruses imagines a 300 year old Voltaire reinvented as a Tyneside Barista, (a coffee-house employee)

Trans Literations is a series of riffs – imaging words as strokes responding to sound. Here Sean improvises on pianist Marilyn Crispell’s playing for the likes of John Coltrane, Santuerio and the kitchen concert.

The title poem Wings are Giving Out is a series of responses to Czech surrealist artist Eva Svankmajerová’s many provocative, surrealistic paintings from the 1940s. It contains one of my favorite images: "good friend once gave me tee-shirt with seventeen electric blue penguins / frockhoppers we reckoned."

My favorite poem in the collection is 'speaksong.' It is an exploration of the crossover between poetry and song, containing the chorus: "a friend e-mails honesty and energy is all I got."

It reminded me of Joe Strummer’s 1978 war cry at the Hammy Pallais The Clash were at the height their power to move and influence. Joe called up to the balcony “why don’t you in the cheap seats come on down here” …. and the place erupted, exploded in a frenzy of friendly violence.

Sean Burn’s words are a reminder that we were the generation that wouldn’t be constrained by class. We wouldn’t be marked by the way we dotted our ‘i’s and crossed our ‘t’s. We vowed to be true to our word and to speak how we found.

At a time when Blair’s Christian message to the world is that he would’ve sent in the troops, weapons of mass destruction or no; we a few Sean Burn’s, unafraid to tell it like it is.

Wings are Giving Out is available from from skrev Press for £9.99 (isbn 978-1-904646-56-3)

Sean Burn performs 'bastilles englan'
bastilles englan is a performance that is part reclamation, part provocation, and wholly an exploration of escaping asylums and subsequent journeyings towards fragile freedoms. its starting point is poet John Clares asylum break out in 1841 and 5 day walk home to freedom.


Sean Burn is available for spoken word / multimedia performances. Further information is available from his website