One year on: Thank You, NHS!

Today, my husband and I are celebrating a first anniversary, of sorts. One year on from a subarachnoid haemorrhage, David continues to do well after making a remarkable recovery from a life-threatening condition.

We have much to be thankful for, not least the expertise of health professionals, and the treatment and quality of care he received from staff at all levels: from the neurosurgeon who explained the risks one Saturday at 2am, to the nurse on placement at QMC Nottingham who stayed beyond the end of her shift because she’d promised her patient she’d do what was needed.

I LOVE our NHS! Though there are those that do their damnedest to break it, the dedicated individuals that are its backbone continue to do the best they can for the patients in their care, in spite of this.

Many poems have been commissioned to mark 70 years of a healthcare system to meet the needs of everyone, free at the point of delivery, and based on clinical need, not the ability to pay. One such is Owen Sheers’ film-poem, To Provide All People; a tapestry of personal and universal experiences, historical narrative. Depicting 24 hours in a regional hospital, it is based on 70 hours of interviews with individuals: patients, health professionals and NHS workers at all levels. It is a love poem, of sorts, and available to view via BBC iPlayer until tomorrow at 9pm.

In my Ledbury blog post, I mentioned Martin Figura’s show, Doctor Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine. I was deeply affected by the image of the couple on sitting on the steps of Great Ormond Street hospital and the doctor who told them, “I have held your daughter’s heart in my hand and it’s fine.” (Our son, born with a congenital heart condition requiring surgery at five days old and again, aged 3, is now 33). I heartily recommend this life-affirming show, if it’s touring in your area.

I’ve also experienced a deep connection with ‘NHS’ poems by poets whose work I’ve read over time:

Roy Marshall’s poems in the Traces section of his latest collection, The Great Animator (Shoestring Press), are inspired by his nursing experience in coronary care and research. Self-effacing to the last, Roy is one of the most talented writers I know. Having read the collection soon after its publication last year, I was pleased to hear Roy read some of these poems at Lowdham book festival, last month.

My pre-ordered copy of Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After? (Nine Arches Press) arrived just in time for me to read it from cover to cover before her launch reading at the Nine Arches Press tenth birthday bash. I was particularly pleased, then, that she included ‘Love in the Time of Hospital Visits’ among the poems she chose to read on the day. To say that I identify strongly with this poem is an understatement. You can read it here on the Bookanista site.

Poet and indefatigable blogger John Foggin has around 70 years of ‘form’ with the NHS. Last year, he invited his blog readers to send him poems about hospitals and their experience of them. They make for interesting and varied reading. You’ll find them all in his How Are You Feeling? series of posts starting here.

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Crystal Clear Creators pamphlet launch

After a wonderful evening of poetry and prose, I am simultaneously enticed into six very different word worlds, each exquisitelycrafted and ‘giftwrapped.’

Maria and Jonathan Taylor of Crystal Clear Creators hosted the launch of its six new pamphlets as part of De Montfort University’s Cultural Exchanges Festival.

An evening in two halves: open mic readings, followed by readings from the pamphleteers after a brief introduction by their respective mentors.

Deborah Tyler-Bennett said that Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves’ performance poems worked equally successfully on the page and the ear, their hard edge quality belying their tenderness.  ‘Mulletproof’, who describes himself as a frustrated rock ‘n’ roll star, began by reading Ceremony, or Mills & Boon meets council estate (his words): ‘star-crossed lovers’ take their post-coital ‘shower in the headlights and raindrop confetti.’  He followed with his ‘title track,’ Citizen Kaned: strongly evocative, an ‘inter Stella Artois cruise’ through a booze-soaked world. To end, an ink-still-wet tribute to Davy Jones: poignant, tender.

Maria Taylor described her mentorship of Jessica Mayhew as a mutual learning process, her mentee as a poet capable of transforming the everyday into the unfamiliar.  Jessica’s pamphlet, Someone Else’s Photograph, contains poems of the sea and her Shetland family history.   I loved the title poem’s onomatopoeic ‘shutter-click’, evocative ‘bone-stud limpets blink’ and the intrigue of ‘us on the other side of their photograph/walking away, crab-shadowed.’

In the absence of Wayne Burrows, Maria Taylor also introduced Roy Marshall, a poet with a talent for compressing language that makes experiences so immediate.  Rose, the opening poem in Gopagilla: achingly tender, his newborn son ‘a mirror of his mother,’ sound-echoed in ‘murmurs’ and ‘miniature.’  We are left with the beautiful image of ‘her sleep-slackened rose.’

Mark Goodwin introduced Charles G Lauder Jr: bodyscape poems inspired by the work of Lucian Freud, Bleeds uses daring language and varied visual play to explore femininity from the male perspective.  Scheherazade Arrives in Boston, the opening poem, immediately engages the reader with its intriguing title and theme of obsession.  Touchable: a series of three poems: in II, ‘red rivers’ dry to ‘brown continents,’ mapping the bed and rendering her ‘untouchable.’  III, truly a poem from the heart, is my personal favourite.  But more of that in a future blog post.

David Belbin mentored the only prose writer amongst the newly-published six.  In Without Makeup and Other Stories: Hannah Stevens, a DMU graduate, manipulates language and tense with precision to create vulnerable characters inhabiting a fragile world.  She read the title story: I engaged with the clipped sentences. The opening paragraph immediately raises questions in the reader: ‘The room looks away’: an arresting viewpoint.

Aly Stoneman’s reading from Lost Lands closed the evening.  Mark Goodwin introduced her a landscape poet whose water-themed poems have a musicality that rings through them, pliable yet able to cut rock.  her work is myth-rich; personal, yet universal.  I enjoyed and will re-visit I Put Away Childhood Things. I was captivated by Aly’s reading voice, her fluid hand gestures and sinuous body language.  I can’t wait to meet her words on the page.  Again, more later.

I’m already venturing inside those tantalizing Helen Walsh covers…