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Writing yourself healthy!

Here I am again. This week I am going to share with you my experiences of writing and health. In particular (because it will help me think it through), writing and wellbeing and my latest adventures of running workshops. This is something I have been talking and writing about for a couple of years - you can even find some of my thoughts on the subject in past issues of Nursing in Practice. (1,2)

In order to try it out I approached a fellow choir member who works for Age Concern and suggested that I did a poetry workshop with some older people. She thought that this was a good idea and a few months later I found myself sharing poems with a wonderful group of people in the day room of a local residential home.

It was a fantastic experience for everyone involved, so much so that they invited me back. During the first workshop I read out some poems (old favourites) and invited the group to share ones they could remember. There was a very deep well of poetry knowledge in the room, including one lady who had been writing poems for many years and we felt very privileged to hear some of her work.

They also got me to read one of my own poems, which was a daunting prospect as going public with your own poetry is a very exposing experience to say the least. But I managed to do it and left the workshop fairly unscathed.

The second time I decided to not just read poems, but also to see if we could write one together as a group. I knew that they met on a regular basis and therefore knew each other well and that their enthusiasm for poetry was such that they might just give it a go. So on 31 October off I went with a plan and a purpose!

One of the safest and easiest ways to attempt to write a poem is an approach called the "List Poem". As it was autumn and close to Armistice Day that soon became our focus. I encouraged the group to come up with colours, smells and images that evoked that time of year, and we soon began to generate sentences that brought it all together. After a frenetic 30 minutes we had come up with enough lines to create a poem.

The whole experience was truly moving as memories were shared and stories told. We used a democratic process to decide the order the lines went in and whether all stories and memories were used. At the end of the session we had created a piece of work that we could be very proud of. I printed it up onto some lovely paper and each group member got their own copy. They took it along to their AGM and one of the group members read it out in public.

Poetry might not move mountains but it can make a small difference to the little obstacles put in our paths! Next time I'll share some more examples and then you can have a go!

1. Spencer S. An event that changed my practice. NiP 2005;22:16.
2. Spencer S. Writing yourself to wellbeing. NiP 2006;30:104-8.