Poetry in Motion, Poetry in Medicine.

Last week I had a big day out.  I went to London on the (very) early train to attend the Hippocrates Medicine and Poetry Symposium. This is an annual event which includes a programme of speakers and ends with the announcement of winners of the prestigious Hippocrates Poetry Prizes. Two of the speakers really captured my attention and my imagination.

A young medical student talked about his project looking into the representation of psychiatrists in film (Dr.Dippy, Dr. Evil, Dr Wonderful) and presented his findings in series of four beautiful poems hand written on the stereotypical spider inkblot pictures used in psychiatric consultation.

A cardiologist from USA explained and read some of his ‘echo’ poems inspired by the magic of sound pictures taken of damaged hearts through echo-cardiograms; poems also inspired by the patients he worked with and the decisions they faced together.

My colleague Cathy Bailey and I also gave a brief presentation about a small project that  I facilitated at Northumbria University using creative writing in reflective practice with student nurses working with people with dementia.

It is not surprising that my highlight of the day was Kate Compston who had worked as a counsellor in Cornwall, winning the first prize in the NHS category with a poem Lovely Young Consultant Charms My Husband. She captured the moment when the diagnosis of DLB (Dementia with Lewy bodies) was revealed with humanity and medical knowledge to explain her husband’s memory loss, hallucinations and cognitive impairment; his elated response to the young woman  consultant and Kate’s sense of impending tragedy.

Creative Writing session with student nurses reflecting on the joys, challenges, responsibilities of the job.

Creative Writing session with student nurses reflecting on the joys, challenges, responsibilities of the job.


Party Time

Isn’t this the best ever party cake you have ever seen?


The cake was based on a glass picture designed and made  by ‘Fred’  who is over eighty years old with early stage of dementia, a reference to the years that he had worked as a miner under the sea off Sunderland. This delicious  cake was made for the end-of-project-party at the National Glass Centre (NGC) where I have been working with glass artists, staff and volunteers and a group of people with dementia and their carers.  My role as writer was quite small, as the main focus was to give the participants opportunity to make glass objects, socialise with others and enjoy a mainstream cultural venue without feeling that dementia might be a problem. However we did produce small pieces of writing with most individuals as well as a group poem in response to one of the exhibitions which included over one thousand glass ‘teardrop’ shaped pieces  hanging in a beautiful sequence of waves and curves.

Many of the conversations centred on the topic of work; this was more than just reminiscence as it is our work which often gives us a sense of identity. Most participants of the project remembered the site of The NGC as a place of engineering on the banks of the River Wear; a reminder of other industries on the riverside and in the Sunderland area: – shipbuilding, mining, rope making-as well as other jobs such as teaching or caring.  Many of those industries have disappeared now and replaced with smart modern buildings – the University, the National Glass Centre- and riverside walkways with manicured lawns. But for some of the people who wad worked in those areas, they saw the developments as a step backwards, they would have preferred to see the bustle and muddle of shipbuilding because there were always jobs  for local people.

Feedback at the end of the project from all the participants was overwhelmingly positive; the weekly sessions  were  described as a chance for socialising, being creative but also an important opportunity to return to making something, being productive.  Families and friends can now see their dozens of glass objects on exhibition at the NGC, challenging the stereotype that people with dementia cannot create or make a  significant contribution to the cultural life of the community.