Poems for…self at sea

This is a collection of 30 poems about mental disturbance or mental ill-health or mental illness. It was put together between 2012 and 2015.

But it was informed also and inevitably by a working lifetime of companionship, witness and support, on my part, as a mental health social worker. For many years, I was manager of community centres in London, which catered specifically for people with long-standing mental health problems.

In addition, several of the poems were written by mental health in-patients taking part in a creative writing group I ran over several years on a monthly basis in West London.

Funding for the collection was provided by Westminster’s NHS commissioners of services, then called NHS Westminster. Thanks are also due to the charity United Response for organising the collection’s launch in Bristol in the Autumn of 2015.

I thought initially that this  collection could be used for staff training and for display in local GP waiting rooms. Neither of those things have happened, as far as I know. But in 2018, it was exhibited to very good effect in some schools in Bristol during Mental Health Awareness week. Poems were enlarged to various sizes up to and including A1.

Why the title “Self at Sea” ? Here is a short discussion/explanation.

All the poems set out below can be heard here in audio, read by myself, with the text of each poem appearing onscreen at the same time as I am reading it.  My voice is a bit rough, as a cold was in the offing. I think the collection might make its point better if there could be a greater variety of people reading the poems. This may well be our next step.

For three examples from the collection, showing how the poems look, click on any of the three images below, and it will expand :


What People Have Said

Michael Rosen, UK Children’s Poet Laureate 2007-2009 – his poem celebrating the NHS is included in the “Poems for…one world” collection:

“I think that this is a stimulating, exciting and important project… Many, many thanks … I am excited and delighted that my poem is appearing in several languages [here]. It shows that we can talk to each other just as we try to care for each other… I think the project needs all the help it can find.”

Lakshmi Holström, translator of two Tamil poems in the ‘Poems for…one world’ collection:

“The thrill is in seeing Tamil as part of a spectrum of languages, each making its own wonderful contribution …[Poems for…the wall] is an impressive and beautiful project, which should continue to grow.”

Deputy Chief Exec, Yarrow Housing:

“Since our clients have learning disabilities, for some the written word is not accessible. However, some clients have been very taken with the poems, selecting their favourites and saying how good they are.”

Sir Andrew Motion, FRSL, Poet Laureate 1999-2009, launched the ‘Poems for…one world’ collection and later our first website. Also contributed a poem :

I greatly admire what you’re doing…and am delighted that the NHS has supported you so well…[This] is an inspired scheme…I’ve been delighted to be part of it….”

Chikwendụ Anyanwụ, Igbo poet and Catholic priest, contributed work to the “Poems for…one world” collection:

“Your idea is a very noble one.”

Catherine Maloney, Lewisham College:

“Thank you, the poems are wonderful ! We will put them up for staff and students to enjoy and think about…I think your collection will inspire staff and students alike.”

Gareth Evans, teaching in a school in Shanghai:

”…it seems to be an important thing, at least to me, in an international setting, to know that the poem-posters on my classroom wall are also on walls around the world.”

Sir Michael Jay, Permanent Under-Secretary of State, the UK Foreign Office, 2002-2006 :

“Diversity is an excellent theme, and especially relevant to the challenges we all currently face to build a cohesive society. We would like a set of the poems to use at appropriate FCO events…”

Hana Amichai,  widow of Yehuda Amichai, Hebrew poet whose work appears in ‘Poems for…one world’  :

“It is a beautiful and very important project, I am glad that Amichai’s poem is included.”

Sue Eardley, Mayday University Hospital, Croydon :

“The poems are… being changed around regularly, and patients often comment on them in passing….Thank you again for the initiative, and please keep us informed of any new schemes, or if there is a way we can encourage other organisations to benefit from this great idea.”

William Radice, writer and academic, translator of Rabindranath Tagore, whose work is reproduced in ‘Poems for …one world’ :

“Wonderful to see this and I do congratulate you on a really excellent project.  It has huge potential.”

MV Prescott, Consultant in A & E Medicine, Royal Shrewsbury Hospital NHS Trust:

“I am absolutely delighted with the pack and will be commencing a project in the A & E Department at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital to display these on a rotating basis.”

Mourid Barghouti, Palestinian poet, Cairo, contributed work to ‘Poems for…one world’ collection:

“I am delighted to be part of your creative and beautiful project.”

Jayne Greathead, poet, contributed work to ‘Poems for…waiting’ collection:

“It’s a lovely feeling to know my poem has been used in this way.”

Annette Duncan, Programme Area Leader, ESOL 16-18 Courses, Lewisham College:

“You kindly sent me a set of the bilingual poems last year…The poems proved very useful classroom materials and we went on to study other poems. The result is a book of poems, written by the students themselves, in 2 languages – their mother tongue and English. They wrote some truly amazing poems and really enjoyed the process as well as the finished product…”

The Royal College of Nursing, from their Bulletin, June 15th , 2011 :

“The RCN is backing this project which supplies poems free of charge for use in hospitals and health centres up and down the country.”

MIND worker in Camden, London:

“I love reading the poems which are displayed in the reception area at work. I like the variety and I like taking a moment to be still and reflective whilst reading the poems. My current favourite has been photocopied so I can read it from my desk ! It’s a really worthwhile venture.”

Susan Hillyard, Buenos Aires, Argentina, teacher trainer :

Thank you for your poems and for putting them up so generously on the site. I am training 20 teachers to teach English through Drama in Special Education all over the city of Buenos Aires. We are working in very poor conditions without resources and making all our own materials. I am passing your site on to my teachers and am sure they will find some interesting materials…

Selima Hill, poet, contributed work to two of the project’s collections.:

“…Congratulations to you too ! ( I Like the idea of making waiting rooms “less lonely”) PS. Another place where people wait is stations…”

UA Fanthorpe, poet, contributed work to the ‘Poems for…waiting’ collection:  

“I hope that the project continues to go from strength to strength…and to encourage people to read poetry and to feel better at the same time is indeed a worthwhile task – specially perhaps in times like these.”

Eliot Weinberger, US, translator of Octavio Paz, whose work appears in the ‘Poems for…one world’ collection:

“I’m sure that Octavio would have been very moved to know that his poem was appearing in these kinds of public spaces…good luck with this excellent project.”

Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the UK National Health Service, 2010-2014 :

Your initiative has made a valuable contribution to making NHS waiting rooms a more welcoming and sensitive environment for patients and the series of poems celebrating diversity has been particularly well received.

Susan Brown, Chair, “Arts for Health”, Milton Keynes :

“We now have poems in more than 85% of GP surgeries in Milton Keynes….So, thank you for sending us all those [poem-posters]. I hope you agree, it has been a success story and we are delighted with the results.”

Tanya Plutzik, widow of Hyam Plutzik, who contributed work to the ‘Poems for…all ages collection:

This is a wonderful idea. It will surely be widely read and will bring comfort and support to many. Thank you for including my husband’s poem ; he would have been delighted to be part of the collection.”

Tomaž Šalamun, poet, Slovenia, contributed work to the ‘Poems for…one world’ collection:

“I’m very honoured and delighted you have chosen my poem. Very grateful for your marvellous idea.”

Juris Kronbergs, Latvian poet, editor and translator, contributed work to the ‘Poems for…one world’ collection:

“I am happy and proud to take part in your project ! It’s a wonderful way of making poetry useful in society, outside the groups of afficionados, libraries and universities !”

Maureen Woolf, Counsellor, North Warwickshire NHS Trust:

“I have used some of the sample of poems you have already sent me for some group work with older people who have depression, anxiety, memory loss or other difficulties. The overall response has been very favourable.”

Dr. Charles Cantaloupo, Penn State University, USA, translator of Reesom Haile, Tigrinya poet, whose work appears in the ‘Poems for…one world’ collection :

“As the translator, I authorize you, please, to go ahead.  I hope this is enough since your project is great and should not be held up a second more than necessary.”

Lyubo Nikolov, Bulgarian poet, contributed poem to the ‘Poems for…one world ‘ collection:

Best of luck in your noble task.”

School Librarian, King Fahad Academy:

“Thank you so much – we love them!…I am planning to laminate all the poems, and have a Poem of the Week in a prominent place in both the boy’s and girl’s schools.”

David Hart, Poet, commissioned and edited 50 poems for the ‘Poems for…Waiting’ collection, contributed one of his own:

“The pack of poems has come, Rogan, and it’s an excellent piece of work again ; there really has been nothing like these packs before. We have the chance here to open people’s lives to each other.”

Menna Elfyn, poet, contributed work to ‘Poems for…waiting collection:

“It is good to know that the poems are appreciated widely…and that in these difficult times poetry still connects people together.”

The Right Hon Tessa Jowell, Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, 2001-2007:

“I think this is a wonderful project, giving people something meaningful and personal to consider, in what can be an anxious place.”

TN, Governor, HM Prison, Grendon and Springhill :

“Are you still supplying Poems for…the wall ? We would be interested in a pack, as previous poems have been much appreciated by prisoners, staff and visitors to the prison.”

Fiona Sampson, poet and editor, helped select ten bilingual poems celebrating the EU Enlargement of 2004:

Your idea’s a wonderful one, crystallizing many of the most interesting initiatives in contemporary literature/ promotion practice. But, more than this, it’s also a deeply human, very profound return to the meaning of poetry. I’m honoured to have been part of it.”

Dr S. E-L, Clinical Psychologist, NHS Traumatic Stress Counselling Service, London :

 “…About half our patients come from other countries, generally as refugees fleeing torture and persecution…Coming into contact with poetry in their own language whilst waiting, is a really positive way of helping non-English speakers feel a sense of welcome and inclusion. Many thanks.”

Caroline Carver, poet, contributed work to the ‘Poems for…waiting” collection:

“It is good news that the NHS are using the poems so well, and to know they are reaching the right audiences.”

JP, Hospice Visitor :

“Dear Mr Wolf, I have recently seen a “Poems for…the wall”  presentation folder within a palliative care setting which provided a great source of comfort for many visitors. May I take this opportunity to thank you and all the contributors. Are these poems available for other health and social care settings?”

Assistant Head of School, Kent:

“Somehow this lovely set of poems came into my hands; I am delighted with them and am displaying them outside my classroom for maximum impact. I also intend to use them in lessons and get younger students to illustrate as appropriate.”

Psychology Dept, Scunthorpe:

“One thing that has been extremely interesting is…our clients have begun to post their own poems on the wall. Some are poems that mean something to them and some are written by the clients themselves.”

Andrea Lee, Physiotherapy Receptionist, Warminster Community Hospital, Wiltshire:

“I have received the ‘Poems for…one world’ collection and I am totally delighted with them…Some of the scripts are beautiful in their own right, even without the translations. One of the most striking aspects is that no matter what language and ethnic background, our hopes, feelings and dreams are the same. Thank you once again.”

Antjie Krog,  South African poet and translator, contributed work to the ‘Poems for…one world’ collection:

“They arrived!!!! the posters. and what a treasure, my head is bristling with ideas…thank you so so so much.”

BB, NHS cancer patient, London, 2013 :

“I just want to tell you that in 1997 I read and copied one of your poems, “The Stream of  Life” [by Tagore] in the waiting room in Hammersmith Gaeni dept. I had just finished chemo for ovarian cancer. I still find this poem inspiring and think displaying poems is a great idea, especially in health settings. I plan to take them with me on retreat. Thanks.”