12 May 2021

Guest blogger: Beth Calverley

I’m the Arts & Culture Programme’s Poet in Residence at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, made possible by Above & Beyond and Weston Area Health NHS Trusts Charitable Fund. 

I’m taking a moment to reflect on what I’ve learned from being an NHS Poet in-and-out-of Residence during a global pandemic. I’ve separated this blog post into four sections: Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. Each posts includes a writing idea at the end of each ‘season’, so you can have a go yourself.

This is the third seasonal installment. Click here to read the "Summer 2020" blog (1/4) or the "Autumn 2020" blog (2/4).

Winter 2020-21: feather-lining

As we went back into national lockdown and Covid rates surged, I hosted poetry co-creation experiences with staff members online. Colleagues signed up to take part in group sessions to create team poems together, expressing what matters to them collectively. 

One of these team poems was created by the chemotherapy day unit team at Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre (BHOC), who invited me  to help them create a poem about their shared day-to-day experiences. I asked them some questions to warm up their imaginations, then wrote down exactly what they said on the typewriter. I read the poem aloud and everyone got involved in writing and redrafting the poem. 

Here is their beautiful resulting piece, shared with permission.

Dream Team

We are a team of smile-givers,Poem by team at BHOC
hard-workers, singers and dancers,
bakers and cake-eaters.

We notice everything -
the patients’ faces, down-stream
occlusions, when the green and blue

bags arrive. We notice when
we need more chocolate.
We listen to music on Smooth Radio

(though we don’t know why),
the chemo fridge beeping,
emergency buzzers,
concerns and worries,
each other. Anything.

“Anyone free for a check?” -
the daily chorus. “What have you got
for lunch? Oo yum.”

We share our lives - the highs
and lows. We feel patients’ veins
and smile when we get it first time.

We touch patients’ hearts
but not as much as they touch ours.
Cakes of gratitude - the way they know

to show it. We are learning constantly,
cheering each other up,
knowing when to listen.

Our smiles are for everyone.
We’re grateful for laughter and sincerity
(and a glass of wine at the end of the day).

We’re proud to be here.
We’re proud to care for you.

Sally Long, the day unit Sister, said: "Thank you so much for the  poem that you crafted with my team; it is truly wonderful and has been shared widely with the wider team... We have to find moments of joy in this tough year and the team really loved being involved!"

BHOC team with their poemI have also spent some time with the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit team at St Michael's Hospital, co-creating two poems. One of these is a poem that will be gifted to babies and their families who arrive in the unit. The moment of arrival is a scary time for many patients and parents, so they are given a small bamboo toy called a mini-boo that helps to deepen the bond between them while their contact is limited. The poem is partially inspired by the soothing, repetitive rhythm of ancient charms. My collaborator, Dr Elizabeth Osmond, shared some medical insights into the role that smell and touch play in nurturing the bond between babies and their parents. 

Here is the poem - included with permission.

The Spell of Scent

to be gifted with the miniboo and read aloud

Let my scent and voice hold hands 
and leap
into your nest to help you sleep.
Let their footprints lead you home to me.

Let the tuft of comfort tickle your chin.
Let hormones giggle and wriggle within;
the depth of love that scent begins.

Let my muffled syllables hold you tight
as familiar soundwaves call to mind 
the soothing womb you left behind.

Let your soapless sweetness send me strength
as I press your bottom, back and chest,
casting comfort’s gentle spell.

When it’s time to go, this stays behind –
a part of me always by your side,
and your first little friend to be your guide.

a collaboration between Dr Elizabeth Osmond and Beth Calverley, Poet in Residence at UHBW NHS FT

Amidst the long winter days, there were some of the most refreshingly clear skies I’ve seen. On one of these bright, cold days, the writing group wrote in response to the themes of ‘light and touch’. Watching their faces on the video call, each one intently writing, I had a powerful sense that technology really is magic! 

As well as team poems, I also host one-to-one sessions with members of staff who want to co-create poems for friends, family, colleagues, and for themselves. Often, co-creators choose to reflect on the past year or celebrate the support of loved ones. They receive the final poem through the post and can choose to keep it, display it at work, or share it with someone as a gift.

Writing idea: Write about a scent that means something to you, e.g. your Mum’s Apple Crumble. Another idea is to write a poem about a wish or hope of your own. You may find it helpful to start each line with “Let…”

Click here to read the next and final installment of Beth's blog - "Spring 2021"

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