Sunday, October 13, 2013

Changing the Conversation

“There is something very healing about working on the jigsaw of a poem, even though the subject matter maybe upsetting. Understanding and working with the craft of poetry frees us form the emotional glare of a situation and lessens our fears.”
Julia Darling p. 12 The Poetry Cure

I’ve been thinking about how you can celebrate what you do, how you can recognise the value in what you are doing without showing off, without over claiming, without being accused of being a fraud. Writing this make me realise what stops me shouting from the roof tops about how I believe poetry can make a difference. If I make too much of these things then maybe someone might come along and blow my cover, show me up for not knowing a thing about what I am talking about, expose my emptiness. Reading an article in the GuardianOnline this week about poetry in health care made me realise that my frustration about the lack of recognition for the power of poetry is more about me than the poetry. I tend to think I am an imposter wherever I am, as a nurse, as an educator, as a writer, it hinders me and represses me; stops me being what I can be. It has been hanging about for a long time and mining it for its origins is a risky business. However I think if I am to take my message forward about the power of poetry then I have to leave it all behind.
I have been running poetry workshops in health related settings for a number of years now, I discovered the power of creative writing and well being in 2004 and for the last 7 years (since my Mum died) I have sought to offer that possibility in a number of places.
In hospices it has been revelatory, where it is possible to regularly underestimate the power of language and memory, that ordinary people can find extraordinary ways to express themselves in poetry, all they need is permission, a piece of flip chart, a scribe and a safe space to explore words. When I run our writing sessions all people in the room contribute to the making of the poetry, patients, volunteers and staff. If someone happens to walk through the room en route to the photocopier they must participate. It is about generosity and sharing, it is about giving people space to think and have a journey of discovery. It is a time to have the opportunity to rediscover childhood games, childhood spaces, local myths, and local landmarks. The agenda is set by the people present, in early times I went equipped with a plan, this often didn’t work and all my preparation often inhibited the flow of ideas. For the last few years I have simply been part of the conversation at the beginning of the session, listening and responding until I notice an issue or theme that might be worth excavating. It never ceases to surprise me how profound and insightful people can be, changing the conversation, paying attention adds something to the relationships between folk in the room. The academic in me wants to find out more about what is going on but I often find that inhibits my thinking, shrinks the view. Instead I will just carry on just doing what I do and wait for the analysis and evaluation to happen. These workshops have been a life changing experience for me and I increasingly find I want to offer the same type of space to all those I come into contact, a safe exploratory space rather than a formal, prescribed space.
Simply by writing this I find I have more confidence in this approach, poetry is one way of creating this space but I am sure it is not the only one. However I think that offering poetry into the space changes the tone of how we communicate. The compression of language, the attention to expression and evocation of emotion makes a difference. I now carry poetry with me into many spaces and mention poetry when I can, some folk might see me as an eccentric outsider but I hope I can cultivate more places where I can offer this way of learning – it is important and it can save your life!

You will love again the stranger who was your self 
 Derek Walcott from Love after Love

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