Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Making poetry : sharing learning 2

For the last 6 and half years I have been very fortunate to be the poet-in-residence at a local Hospice.  The wonderfully generous staff and volunteers have allowed me to hone my poetry facilitation skills over the years and together we have written over 20 poems.

This has been a very rewarding activity and everyone in the room contributes to a group poem. This has been a unique experience and many people have commented on how much they enjoy the process and surprise themselves with their language skills and creativity.

As this project has developed I have shared this process with a number of people and have become more confident with the contexts in which this approach to making poetry can be utilised.

With that in mind the team invited me to do “your stuff with words” as a finale to their new 6 week community based rehabilitation project. I agreed to this but went to the first session with some trepidation, mindful of the fact that the group had been together for 6 weeks and that I would be an interloper coming along to ask them to use words to explore their experiences of the group. I needn’t have been so worried; the staff are so good at including folk in their sessions that they made sure  I joined in with the exercises and immediately felt calmer about what I would do.

Listening to participants over a cup of tea it became clear that they had bonded as a group and that this was an important component of the sessions. Picking up on this I decided to use Evoke Cards to explore words that capture what they have appreciated about the programme. As this developed we realised that a poem needed to be the outcome. Below is an image of the  Evoke cards arranged by participants into a poem.

Today I have been back to meet the second group and this time I used both the Evoke cards and the Fink Cards that I have recently purchased. All participants enjoyed choosing words and then each took a turn to share why they chose the words. This was a moving session where both the programme participants and the staff would share what they valued about the group, each other and the processes they had been experiencing. After the sharing it was agreed that a poem ought to be made!! Below are a couple of images of the cards arranged into a poem.

I wanted to share this as it was such an affirming and affecting experience – I always say to myself at the beginning of each session to “trust the process” and this was very true today. So much learning but for the moment I just wanted to share the experience rather than intellectualise and analyse it.




Sharing Learning 1

Reflections on a writing workshop

On Saturday 1st February I facilitated a writing workshop focussing on writing in the Hospice setting. I drew on my experience of running poetry groups in Hospices over the last six years to inform my exercises and discussions
Here is an overview of what I did and a bit of my reflections on the day.

Exercise 1

Choosing words :- participants were offered the opportunity to chose words from either cards, magnetic words or small wooden blocks. The instruction was to chose some words and then write something from them, either using them all or using them to develop ideas etc.

Cards used were Evoke Cards 

This exercise has developed following success with using words from poems or just collected as words that are worth playing with. The blocks were prepared as patients found the small magnetic letters and thin card a bit fiddly and the chunky blocks are nice to hold and have a word on 2 sides. The idea of using the blocks came from Carol Ross

This exercise was enjoyed by all and feedback included the observation that the exercise provided the opportunity to think too much about the words and also the chance to play with words and explore where that might end up


Exercise 2

This was a group poem – here participants were encouraged to contribute words and phrases and these were collected onto some sheets of flip chart. This exercise helps identify the focus of the poem and begins a process of listening and negotiating. Everyone will have a word or phrase included and then decisions need to be made about writing poetry lines, length of stanza etc.

It was interesting to note how people used to writing (writers) found this much more difficult than patients at the Hospice. This exercise works really well with people who are not feeling very well – they don’t have to write anything but they can still contribute to the finished piece. For this exercise I used paint charts from a well known DiY retailer to harvest words (paint names etc). It was quite a lively activity and consensus was eventually reached!

Exercise 3

Scribing – each participant was invited to choose a picture of a person. They were then asked to start describing the person in the picture and start telling a story. The person listening was to take notes and ask questions about how the person telling the story wanted it presented.

This exercise requires the listener to really pay attention to what the person is saying and not try to put words into their mouth, analyse what is being said or interpret. I often use the phrase “say what you see” as a way of helping the person being listened to to not feel inhibited by literary convention etc.

This exercise is really good for people who are not feeling very well and may not have the energy to write for themselves. The picture chosen can enable the person to let their imagination fly and develop a poem or short story that demonstrates their creative ability. It can also be part of life writing and reminiscence but that does not have to be the intention but if does evoke this then it is important that this is followed up outside the session to ensure adequate attention is given to the story that needs to be told.  


Monday, February 17, 2014

My writing process – the blog tour.

So I have taken the baton from my lovely friend Kate Evans – the idea is to answer the same questions. Kate’s blog can be found here
What am I working on?

Good question as I am putting lots of feelers out at the moment but not just about writing – it may be career change time.
I am running a series of workshops about writing and health care at  the Lit and Phil in Newcastle and so spend a lot of time thinking about exercises and reading work by poets and writers about experiences of health care. It is a great excuse to immerse myself in this topic. The first workshop was on the 8th February and was very enjoyable and some great work was produced by participants.
I find myself writing poetry at odd moments (usually in meetings) but I am also collaborating with a colleague to write a paper about writing workshops in Hospice care to encourage others to give it a go.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
For many years I have not thought my work was any different. After a period of self-doubt I now am beginning to own the idea of my nursing and education background being important in terms of how I might write about the experience of healthcare, either in poetry or in creative non-fiction.
Having had a stuttering start with poetry - my first year of MA was less than encouraging and that feedback lingers..
I am now determined to believe more in my project of making more visible the work of nursing and the experience of health care from the patient’s perspective. It is easy to think that it has all been told before but the more I read about people’s experience the more I am convinced that we must not take our eye of the ball.

Why do I write what I do?
I haven’t always been a writer and in fact for most of my life I didn’t even really think about it. It was in 2004 when I met Julia Darling at a writing workshop for “tired academics” it was there that I first discovered the joy of creative writing and found myself writing poetry and script. Since then I have been on a bit of mission. Running headlong into doing the MA Creative Writing thinking I needed a qualification to give me legitimacy. That was a hard lesson as I wish I had waited a while but I am still learning and love discovering new writers.

However I am even more committed to enabling others to find their writing voice, patients, carers and practitioners. It is such a powerful vehicle for self-discovery and also support and nourishment. In the last few months I have stopped thinking that this is a soft option in healthcare and one I have to justify. It is in fact an essential resource that should be available to all. It won’t suit everyone but it should at least be offered.

How does my writing process work?
Intermittently is my honest answer, the lighter mornings help me write first thing but I find discipline a bit tricky. I get bored in meetings and find myself writing poetry then, I listen to radio 4 and I find I get ideas and inspiration from stories on You and Yours etc. There is no real pattern to my writing process but I do find myself finding time for it now and know it is very important to my well-being to find time to write.

I am handing on the baton to Sheree Mack who I met 9 years ago at a Writing and Health course at Newcastle University and a wonderful person who I admire greatly. Sheree first encouraged me to read my poems in public and has been a constant source of encouragement (and occasional nagging since). Sheree’s current blog can be found here

I am also offering the baton to my friend Eleanor who is a GP and writer – I met Eleanor at one of Sheree’s writing workshops at the Lit and Phil so I feel it right to offer the baton to them both. Eleanor’s blog can be found here.


Sunday, February 16, 2014


Bought my first bunches of daffodils. A sure sign of Spring and one very important to me. I have been buying Daffs in February for a long time. Here's a poem I wrote a couple of years ago that involved a journey back to my first lot of nights at Old Addenbrooke's....

First Spring in Cambridge


Your compulsion to have dozens of daffodils

on the mantelpiece, a puzzle – when they only last

a week. You wonder why have them inside

when there are so many outside

along the Backs, along the Cam,

the reason why you came here.


On your third ward – night duty – alone.

Distracted by sighs, murmurs and moans

You try to be vigilant but struggle to stay awake.

Hope not to get caught out by night sister.


April being the cruel month,

you long for the drizzle to cease.

Your first birthday away from parents and siblings

no presents, few cards, just another shift

and then the weekend off to visit what was home.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Getting back

It's been a while since I wrote a blog. I haven't been here because I haven't had the energy to write it and I haven't been sure what I wanted to write about.
Looking back at my last post I can see the signs I had been ignoring for  quite a while; I was very depressed and quite unwell.
On 25th November I went to the GP - a locum "rolled with my resistance" about taking medication and challenged me. I was there for a reason - if it wasn't medication - what was it? Good question - I took the prescription and have slowly began to feel so much better. I now realise that I had got used to feeling rubbish for a very long time.

I didn't want to admit to myself that I was depressed/anxious, it isn't the sort of thing that is easy to share with anyone. First their is the stigma but for me the overwhelming feeling was that of a sense of failure. As a proponent of writing for well-being I thought I could look after myself - but I really wasn't doing very well.

Now life is not such a struggle I have found I quite like people I work with and am not fighting with myself and others.
I don't expect it to all be sorted over night but I just thought I would share where I have been. It is difficult to share mental health difficulties - if I had developed a chest infection I may have been a bit reluctant to take antibiotics but I bet you I wouldn't have put it off for quite so long.
I hope that I have learnt a lot from this and I hope to share this where and when appropriate.
I also realise how good the blog is for helping me order my thoughts. That's the mission I am on to encourage people to think about this and read and write poetry.
Now I can concentrate and read books again I can look forward to the year ahead instead of dread.