Last night a group of poets gathered in central London to read their musings about their experiences of mental health problems and surviving the system. The poetry reading was one of the events taking place this week to mark Wellbeing Week, which aims to help change misconceptions of mental health and promote mental wellbeing.
Sarah Wardle led the readings from survivor’s poetry, which offered an insight into the lives of people who have experienced life in psychiatric hospitals, prisons, rehabilitation units and counselling centres, and who are working hard to get their lives back.
Sarah was reading classics at Oxford when she had her first psychotic episode and six months later she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She has since published a collection of poetry in which she charted the year she spent in a psychiatric facility.
She said: “For anyone who lives with the stigma of mental illness poetry can be a great way of putting across subjective feelings and illuminate speaking from the soul. A lot my poems were written during my time in hospital, charting my feelings of injustice, rage, then through to tenderness and patience, which is needed to achieve recovery.”
Other readers included Richard Copeland, Marjorie Holmes, Rogan Wolf, Phil Ruthen, Harriet Thistlethwaite, Christina Viti and Zoompad. Below are some examples of their work.
Solitude by Sarah Wardle:
It is in words that I have found patience,
locked on a ward with language’s silence.
Left by a radiator with one’s thoughts,
sunrise and car tail lights become one’s prompts.
It is the pauses of the day which bring
punctuation to consciousness’ meaning.
Light plays on the grass and for an instance
ideas are grasped and become a sentence.
Treetops fan out, each twig like a dendrite,
while impulsive nerves impel me to write.
A pair of mating crows are back again,
speaking in the warning caws of madmen.
Darkness has again fallen in the square
on those in hospital forgotten here.
For others daffodils bloom and the sun
today warmed the skin of ones with freedom.
It is in dialogue with one’s own mind
lonely conversations begin to find
a way from illness and fragility
to the sanity of stability.
Snow from Ebury Ward by Sarah Wardle
Each snowflake is a minute of detainment,
filling the air with falling measures of time,
not settling, but hitting the ground to melt,
like wasted hours, sectioned for losing one’s mind.
Sometimes the wind eddies the snowflakes upwards
and they take longer to sink, as moments stall,
like the sensation that time is going backwards,
that we’re forgotten and no hope’s left at all.
But somewhere in me there is still delight
To see each snowflake, as in Midlands winter.
And though down south it doesn’t sick, the sight
Of snow in March gives us a white Easter.
By lunchtime there’s no trace, but half a day
Has been ticked off the time I’ll spend away.
Beach Elegy by Richard Copeland
The sea commands both the dead and the living,
disregards its shells and bones,
bits of driftwood scoured to an abstract,
blind and unfeeling, thrown to litter.
The cenotaph of the hollow shell
echoes the spiral of time tapered
to a vanishing point.
The mermaid’s purse, once a cradle
and now so much flotsam gapes
as if trying hard to comprehend
the meaning of it all.
Over all this rushes the wind,
sightless and inflated
with zero’s sphere, blown to nothing
by its own reckless force, or dreaming
it is the Son of God, drifting over
a virgin world, unable to mix
and aloof to the stars
who pay it no heed.
Here is where the angels pass
without notice and planets,
the watered heavens.
Eden by Richard Copeland
The serpent did not seduce Eve
and she did not seduce Adam.
True, they both ate the apple
together with its worm,
squeezed it to cider and slept, coiled to a question.