One of my favourite poetry anthologies for dipping into is The song atlas, a book of world poetry edited by John Gallas and published by Carcanet (2002). This offering comes from Columbian poet, José Asuncion Silva (who lived in the second half of the 19th century):
A poem is a holy glass - put
undiluted thought in it, only that -
in whose blinking drop images gleam
like the gold bubbles in an old, shone wine.

Tip in flowers - flowers that the endless, punching
chill of the world has bruised -
quiet memories of things that will never come back
and dewlicked roses.

Thus our brutish existence is made sweet -
as if with an unfathomable essence -

What a wonderful view of poetry. I don't know whether the poetry I have been writing on this residency has helped make a brutish existence sweet or, at least, more bearable for having been heard. I am tolerating the position that comes to many a counsellor or therapist, that position of not knowing. Of feeling intensely connected with someone and their struggle and then having to accept that we can do little more than wait.


I am sitting listening to my friend and fellow writer and the question comes back to me again, what am I doing on this residency? He is pointing out the difficulties (that I am already aware of, but perhaps have not fully articulated) created by the poetry portraits I have been trying to write. As with any portrait, there is the sitter and the artist and what comes out is a fusion of the two. There have been many famous instances where the sitter is not happy with the final painting. But I am not just an artist, I am a healer. How healing are my portraits? And who are they healing for?

Initially with this residency, I had imagined creating the portraits and then taking them back to the person they were written about. I had thought there would be this sharing and negotiation over the words chosen and the sentiments expressed. The healing would come in the sitter being heard and being enabled to communicate. Unfortunately, I have rarely been able to see a patient twice. This means that I have a number of portraits which the patient has not had their input into. Who do these portraits belong to? Have I the right to keep them, to share them? Did the patients, in talking to me after being told my role, give me their permission to write about them? Were they capable of doing that? Will the poems be healing in some way to other listeners: nurses, relatives, people in general?

All these questions bear down on me as I listen to my friend. I have no answers. I feel paralysed, sad. I wonder again, is there any point to what I am doing?