Sea Creature
The last time I came, there were fisherfolk here and nets,
the smell of fish, fresh and drying.
It was Summer. It would have been Summer.
I watched the red lobster pots being tossed from small boats.
I came out of the sea, a harvest of kelp draped across my back,
salt encrusting my lizard skin as the water dried.
I had not drowned as the legend said.

Why should I have done?
I have the lung capacity of a whale.
I had spent years upon years laid out on the icebergs, waiting for death.
It did not come. Why should it?
A life force like mine would see death itself perish.
So I knew I would find my way home.

Only I was weak after so many decades of the cold and the white.
I gorged myself on turtles and sea lions and bears
before submitting to the womby waves.
I followed the silver lightship through the sea's midnight,
an ocean of memories spun out before and behind
leading me to this one beach.

Here once, long ago, we scribbled and scrabbled,
two rabbly creatures,
birthed, then cribbed, then torn apart.


I have been running therapeutic creative writing workshops for people with depression and anxiety for about six years now. I enjoy the work, particularly the diversity of people that I come to meet and the journeys we take together. However, my experience over this time has brought me to question more and more the funding of mental health services.

Mental health provision has been called the "Cinderella" services, left behind in terms of money and commitment because of the stigma attached to mental ill-health. More recently the government pledged £173 million to improve access to psychological therapies on the NHS in England. This funding was announced in 2007, to be rolled out during the three years until 2010. Now, though, there appears to be a question mark over whether this money is "ring-fenced" or whether, as the public purse gets squeezed, it can be syphoned off to other services.

Often governments behave as though there isn't a table of priorities when it comes to spending, but, of course, there must be since budgets cannot be finite. And what I see happening is that paying for expensive drugs or treatments to prolong people's physical health is far more popular than committing resources to improving people's mental health.

I believe that "mental illness" are still seen as dirty words, something not quite acceptable in our society. Add to that the tendency to suggest that those with mental health issues should really just be able to "pull themselves together" - even though those with physical illnesses are not expected to heal themselves - and the undermining media image of those who suffer from psychological problems, and no wonder mental health services are so poorly supported.

I am glad when what I offer - two hours of creative writing a week - can help people to face their lives with greater purpose. However, I am deeply saddened when I see that it is the only substitute for services which ought to be - but are not - there.


During one of my groups we asked the questions: what is creative writing? And what is it not?

We had been reading Kama Kamanda's poem The Poet's Poem for inspiration. It begins:
"Words gush out of his wrung soul's roots,
and wrap life's to a stranger's pains."
(from the song atlas edited by John Gallas, Carcanet, 2002).

I wrote, "Creative writing is one stranger talking to another in the search of this truth thing through word sounds and rhythm without rhyme or reason."

When turning to what creative writing is not, one my students said, it is not for the faint hearted.


I'm reading Andrew Motion's biography Keats (Faber & Faber 1997). What I find interesting is that even this well-known name suffered terribly from a lack of confidence in his own abilities. In a draft for a preface for one of his epic poems he writes: "So this Poem must rather be considered an endeavour than a thing accomplish'd; a poor prologue to what, if I live, I humbly hope to do."

A therapist colleague suggested that creativity and anxiety must always go hand in hand, since to be creative we must be open, and, therefore, vulnerable, to our own internal workings and to the external world. Keats was surely buffeted by doubt throughout his short life and his creativity was often stymied by it. Would he have preferred not to experience his misgivings, if it meant not having his poetry?

I sometimes ask myself the same question, when the clouds descend and I begin to question everything I am doing with my writing. I try to be more forgiving of this fragile side of me these days, see it as a part of me which requires gentle nurturing. Because yes, I do now recognise it as an essential part of my creativity.