Starting out

It is a strange time to be starting out: mid life, mid year, muddling through. The main impetus for beginning this blog is that finally, after many years of trying to engineer it myself, I have been given the opportunity to be a Poet in Residence. In today's society there are few - if any - jobs open to a poet and a residency is surely the most exciting, challenging and fulfilling.

I have been taken on by the voluntary organisation Hospital Arts in North East Yorkshire to work in three palliative care settings, two in local hospitals and one in a hospice. North Eastern poet, Julia Darling, said in a Guardian article that, "Poetry can help to make you better. Poetry is essential, not a frill or a nicety. It comes to all of us when we most need it. As soon as we are in any kind of crisis, or anguish, that is when we reach out for poetry, or find ourselves writing a poem for the first time."

I have discovered this through my own experience of depression and I have seen it be true for others who are suffering in many different ways. However, it is not always evident for everyone to reach for a poem or a pen when they are hurting. Education often teaches people that writing, and especially poetry, is difficult, hard to understand, it is about complicated words, fancy phrasing, rhyme and is somehow divorced from the everyday experience. On the contrary, for me, poetry is absolutely about how we live our lives today. It is about what comes from our hearts, about word sounds which sing or wail or scream exactly as we would want to do, if we could only find our voice.

Generally when I start working with an individual or with a group, I ask for a favourite word from everyone. When they share that word I ask them to explain why it is special to them. Sometimes it is the meaning or the sound of the word, sometimes it is connected to a memory or a person they are particularly fond of, sometimes it expresses a wish or a hope or a comfort. In the explanation, everyone is already germinating a poem.

One woman recently said rather shamefacedly, "What came to mind was the word 'duvet', but I was trying to come up with something more fancy." There was no need, duvet is fancy enough for any poem. Along with its gentle sound, it holds many an image of peaceful sleep, warmth and drowsy lie-ins.

Despite my experience and skills, it is scary starting out. I doubt, I worry, I undermine myself, as many do when embarking on a new venture. However, at some level, even when I am unsure of myself, I know I can and must trust the poetry.