Thursday, 28 September 2017

Poetry on Prescription

Today is National Poetry Day in the U.K., and fortuitously it was also my regular 3 weekly chemo clinic appointment. The information display screen in the clinic included details of the hospital’s NPD activities so after my appointment I decided to take a look.

Postcards with poems printed on them were being given out at the main hospital entrance and inpatients were being given one of the cards with their lunch trays. There was a display of the poems, selected by what I assume was the event’s organising group, up on the wall outside the main entrance and arcs of excerpts from poems written on the pavement. Although I missed it, there was a poetry reading session over part of the lunch period.



Perhaps the biggest draw for those who had the time was the Emergency Poet, who would prescribe you a few poems. Totally irresistible as far as I was concerned! She was based in an old ambulance, which was interesting in its own right and still retained some of its historic fittings but also had poetry-related additions. Her ‘patients’ (a mix of the hospital’s staff, students, patients and visitors) sat on one of the stretchers with their feet up, while she sat on the opposite one. She then asked questions about your lifestyle, likes and dislikes, how you relaxed, your favourite books, and indeed, whether you usually read poetry. Nothing particularly intrusive and quite cleverly crafted questions so that you could say as much or as little as you chose. 

Based on your answers she selected some poems for you from her file of poems and wrote you a ‘prescription’ of how and where to read them. There was something rather special about coming away with a selection of poems chosen specifically for you.

As I walked to the bus stop with my prescribed anti-emetics for Monday and my prescribed poems sitting side by side in my bag, I was reminded that for many people, of whom I am one, there is an important role for the arts (poetry, visual art, music, dance …) as you go through treatment.

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