Monday, 20 June 2016

Arts In Health

I recently attended the Critical Voices 2016 Conference aimed at connecting people, ideas, arts, medicine and health.

The day began with a short impactful presentation by Tulsi Vagjiani who told of being orphaned and suffering burns as a child in a plane crash. Her story is one of survival, hope and growing self confidence. Tulsi now works as a pilates Rehabilitation Specialist and volunteers for the Katie Piper Foundation as a peer supporter and motivational speaker.

During the day the audience of clinicians, artists, arts practitioners and service users heard stories of others' mental and physical health difficulties and the interaction with an art form that had provided a crucial factor in recovery or coming to terms with their illness.

These included Monica Suswin who journaled to her ill self from her well self to find an insight into her depression. She used expressive writing - poems and prose  - and found she engaged with "healing inner resources." 

Antonia Attwood is a film maker whose own anxiety and her mother's bi-polar illness formed the subject of her film, which led to a new way of talking between mother and daughter.  

Daniel Regan, a photographer, used this art form to chronicle and manage his own illness. In 2014 he produced Fragmentary, a tantalising exhibition of images of archive self portraits paired with his mental health records. 

This was a small but vital conference. I hope that next year there will be many more clinicians and stakeholders in the audience to witness the therapeutic benefits of arts in health.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Spring Haikus

Last week we went to the Keir Hardie Recreation Ground - the park in Canning Town, near Care In Mind where I facilitate a weekly writing group for clients. 

We sat for a while on the benches beneath the trees. Daffodils were growing nearby. The sun was shining. There was a definite glimmer of Spring.

We began to make notes of what we could see, hear, feel and smell. We produced long lists and then we went searching. I'd prepared some things to look for. These included: 

something curved
something covered
a shadow
a corner
some written words
a movement
something shiny
a sparkle  

Across the grass, past the daffodils, round the play park, along the paths we investigated this small park in the middle of houses, building development and roads. We found all these things and more. 

Then we went to the cafe in St Luke's Church and over our cuppas we composed haikus - short three line poems ideally suited to the images we'd collected. These are some I made that day:

A bag hangs in a tree
two construction workers walk 
amongst daffodils.

A dad holds his son's hand 
pigeons waddle in a group
on a sunlit path.

Here are two from haiku master, Basho Matsuo (1644 - 1694):

The old pond
a frog jumps in
the sound of the water.

The sea darkens
the cries of the seagulls
are faintly white.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Launch of The WordTherapy Centre

Inspired by a love of writing, reading and words, I co-founded the WordTherapy Centre in 2015 in collaboration with my friend, Diane Medhurst.

The WordTherapy Centre offers a creative programme of writing and biblio-therapy workshops for organisations and their clients at reasonable rates. 

We also facilitate groups in the community. We create inspiring spaces and draw on stories, poetry and other art forms to inspire and connect. 

Our aim is to work with organisations in Sussex and the South East to widen access to the health and wellbeing benefits of writing, poetry and biblio-therapy. 

You can find out more at The WordTherapy Centre website, and our facebook page. 

Contact The WordTherapy Centre:

Connect with us on Twitter

Monday, 8 February 2016

Writing Character

Try this 30 minute writing exercise:

  • Pick someone you know and describe their appearance in as much detail as you can. Write for ten minutes.

  • Write for ten more minutes about what they do in life and how they engage with the world in general.

  • Now write about your connection with this person.
 " But I hear her still, welcoming me 
with a seagull's voice..."

You could use your descriptions to make a poem about the person, bringing in similes and metaphors as Norman MacCaig does in his poem Aunt Julia -  

"She was buckets 
and water flouncing into them. 
She was winds pouring wetly 
round house-ends.
She was brown eggs, black skirts 
and a keeper of threepennybits 
in a teapot".

You don't have to write a poem, the exercise is complete in itself. The process helps to clarify thoughts and feelings about a person and can move from a negative perception to a more positive understanding.  

The first two parts could also be useful for creating and developing fictional characters. 

I'm not sure where this exercise originated. A colleague passed it on to me several years ago. I've found it helpful personally and used it many times with groups since. (Thanks Aisha!) 


Monday, 18 January 2016

New Year Poems

It's 2016 and Spring is on its way! This is how people were feeling at the Care In Mind group I work with on Tuesdays. This is the poem we made, Winter is Nearly Ending. 

It was very spontaneous, with people speaking their thoughts inspired by the sunny, cold weather that morning in Newham. As they spoke I wrote the words they said. 

I also like this New Year poem written by WS Merwin. The last lines are so full of hope and possibility ...

To the New Year

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

Here are more New Year poems from the Poetry Foundation and some early 2016 crocuses too.