Discovering Poetic Transcription

The data collection phase of my research was immersive. I was enthralled by experiences participants shared within interviews, the incidents they narrated, the emotional trajectory within the interviews, the expressions, the gestures, the ‘tells’ each participant had, the unique way they spoke, the language they used. During interviews participants controlled the narrative and shared what they felt comfortable with. I treated the semi-structured interview questions like guidelines to ensure every aspect of that period in participants life was covered in the interview. The data collected through timeline interviews (4 interviews per participant one hour per interview- total 4 hours approximately) was rich, in-depth, vast, and engrossing. I used Reflexive thematic analysis  to analyse data.  Participants’ individual narratives were somewhat lost, in the identified themes.  Themes lacked the uniqueness of each participant. The immersive feeling, I had listening to participant’s lived experiences multiple times was somehow diluted. I felt responsible for not authentically representing participants narratives. I guilty of not doing justice to participants poignant human experience. I looked at the themes I had identified, and they made perfect sense if I looked at them through theoretical lenses I had chosen. Yet, there was something missing, the themes lacked the soul, the essence of participants individual voices. 

I listened to each interview multiple times, read transcripts multiple times, I felt like I had ‘walked in their shoes for a mile’. I felt their struggle, I heard their voices tremble as they spoke, or laugh when they shared something funny. I heard the pauses and the silence. I observed emotional faces, the gestures, the uncomfortable shuffles, the smiles, the nods, the eye contact, or lack of, multiple times. I watched them struggle to remember every nuance of an incident, the reliving of it all, multiple times. All this is what I found missing. The themes I had identified helped answer my research questions yet seemed devoid of human emotions. The themes were derived from my participants collective experiences yet somehow, they didn’t seem to represent individual participants completely. I wanted my data analysis to authentically represent every participant’s individual experience, without losing their voice. How do I do that? I needed something that allowed individual participants voice to be included authentically to complement themes I had identified. I was stuck at an impasse with myself. 

A Serendipitous moment

I was at this juncture in my research when, I attended a webinar (because of PESN suggested by Sharon Smith) on 3rd. November 2021 organised by University of Bath, School of Education. The session was titled “Exploring podcasting as a new action research method” presented by Simone Eringfeld a PhD student at University of Cambridge. She spoke about her participatory action research wherein she turned a podcast she had started during covid called ‘Quaranchat’ into her thesis. She presented her data in music and poetry format. I had never heard of poetic inquiry but the idea of representing participant voices while presenting data seemed like an answer to the conflicts I was facing. So, I decided to research further into existing literature about it and discovered that this was a legitimate art-based research method which has been used for many years. I am neither a musician nor a poet, but the representation of participant voices in data analysis and presentation was intriguing. I read extensively on the subject, whatever I could find and present what I understood in the next section. 

What is Poetic Inquiry? 

Poetic inquiry method originated in early 80’s in arts-based research. Literature suggests it has been used by many researchers various fields like anthropology, nursing, social work, psychology, sociology, counselling including education and social sciences. ‘Poetic inquiry’ often is an umbrella term for poetry associated with research poems. Poetic transcription is a method which allows researchers to honour the pauses, rhythms etc while transcribing interviews to accurately represent participants lived experiences in the poems rather than quoting snippets from the transcript in prose. Researchers can use Poetic inquiry in three ways.

  • Researcher-voiced poems (Vox Autobiographia/ Autoethnographia) written from field notes, journal entries or autobiographical autoethnographic reflective writing created using researchers own words. 
  • Literature-voiced poems (Vox Theoria) written from or in response to existing literature or theory in any field or sometimes poems about poetry. 
  • Participant-voiced poems (Vox Participare) created from interview transcripts or sometimes elicited from the participants in an action research format. Another term for participant voiced poems is Found poems/ Poetic transcription. “Found poems take existing texts and reorder them and present them as poems”, often used to represent the lived experiences of research participants. 

I have decided to use participant voiced poems specifically Poetic transcription/ Found Poetry for my research.

Process followed to Craft Found Poems

I read and listened to all the transcripts meticulously multiple times, highlighting phrases, emotional laden terms, paid attention to the laughs and the pauses in the voice so I don’t miss anything, and I have formulated some data poems which I have included below. Although it is me the researcher who crafts the poems, they are still the participants original words, utmost care was taken not to change or distort the meaning of the participants experience. I have maintained anonymity, editing out any names, locations, or gender identity. To demonstrate the process, I am using a paragraph from my data analysis journal.

I looked at the themes I have identified, and they make perfect sense if I look at them through the theoretical lens I have chosen. Yet, there was something missing, the themes lack the soul, the essence of my participants individual voices. I have listenedto each interview multiple timesread the transcripts multiple times, I felt their struggle, I heard their voices tremble as they spoke, or laugh when they shared something funny. I heard the pauses and the silence. I watched the emotions on their facesthe gestures, the uncomfortable shuffles, the smiles, the nods, the eye contact, or lack of, multiple times. I watched them struggle to remember every nuance of an incident, the reliving of it all, multiple times. All this is what I find missing. The themes I have identified help answer my research questions yet seem too technical devoid of human emotions. 

Guided by the rhythm of the language, I highlighted key words that resonate the experience. I then copied the identified highlighted portions in a Word document, and like a patchwork quilt merged the portions together to form a coherent ‘found poem’. 

Themes seem devoid of human emotions

Themes identified

Make perfect sense

Through theoretical lens.

Yet, something missing

Lack soul, essence of individual voices.

Listened to interviews multiple times

Read transcripts multiple times

Felt their struggle

Heard voices tremble

Laughter sometimes

Pause and silence at times

Watched emotional faces, gestures, uncomfortable shuffles

The smiles, the nods, the eye contact or not

Watched the struggle to remember

The reliving of it all.

Themes identified help answer my research questions

Yet, seem devoid of human emotions

As you can see, I have not altered any words neither have I added any words staying true to the narrative. The title is crafted from the found poem, selecting the best fitting phrase that resonates the experience that is being shared. A similar process was followed to craft found poems from participant transcripts. I re-read the found poem a couple of times repeating a word for poetic effect, until I was confident that the final poem conveyed the essence of the shared experience and would engage the reader. I took a break of a day and returned to the found poem for a final check. It was important for me that while crafting participant-voiced found poems, the words used were the participants’, and that I did not change the meaning of the experience in any way. I shared drafts of the found poem with the participant to get their approval. 

What exactly am I planning to do?

After careful consideration I have decided that I would place the found poems in a separate chapter within my data analysis presentation. All the found poems identified will be presented in a chapter before I present the chapter on themes, I identified using Reflexive Thematic Analysis. So, essentially the reader will first read all the found poems presented under the four interview categories: early childhood & schooling experiences, university & higher education experiences, employment/teaching experiences and suggestions for the future. By doing so I am presenting anonymized individual participant experiences allowing the reader to ‘feel’ and ‘get inside’ individual narratives, to familiarize themselves with individual stories in poetic form. By presenting found poems separate to the thematic analysis will maintain the interpretive integrity of both approaches.

Currently trying to learn more about Poetry in research

I have joined a group that meets once a month to discuss ‘Poetic Inquiry in Research” organized by Dr. Nicole Brown and  Aine McAllister. Trying to network on Twitter with people associated with creative arts-based research methods. I follow Dr. Helen Kara who has created #CRMethodsChat and advocates for creative research methods.

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