Launch of "Greater Goings On..." poetry collection and review

book cover A joint project by UKAN, Asylum Associates and Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), Greater Goings on…(than you could ever guess) is a collection of poems by people with experience of mental distress. It includes an essay by Peter Campbell on the value of service user poetry in health care training as well as a specially commissioned poem from Ian MacMillan and beautiful colour illustrations by Barbara Kirk.

The unique publication is the brainchild of Neil Carver, a SHU lecturer in Mental Health Nursing. Neil and his colleague Mental Health Nursing lecturer Nicola Clibbens, and UKAN’S Terry Simpson and Justine Morrison were the book’s editors. Most of the poems featured were chosen from entries to the national Poems for Learning competition. A launch event in December 2007 featured Ian MacMillan and Terry Simpson and was attended by poets, service users, students and professionals.
Neil and Nicola told UKAN what has been going on since the book launch: “The main thing that has been happening is that poems are being integrated into particular teaching sessions where they are most relevant. So far it's been a great success! Because the poems are so personal the students seem to really feel an emotional connection with the writer and this motivates them to debate and explore the issues in the poems in much greater depth. For instance first year students have been debating just how people go about getting help. As professionals we can use impersonal technical terms such as 'referrals' or 'pathways to care' but the poem used gives a real insight into the actual experience of being ' a referral'.

The book is also now on the mental health nursing reading lists and other health related courses in the University are utilising the poems. Looking to the future there are many possibilities. There is a wealth of creativity out there and it would be great if we were able to hold future competitions that could involve, say, prose or photography as well as poetry”.

A Review of Greater Goings On… By Lynda Steele

This collection of intimate poems skilfully describes mental distress, often at its worst, and how it is managed on a day to day level.

In “Unwell Again”, by Martin Treacher, the line “Capacity to interact seems lost and gone for good” sums up the paradoxical element which so many of the other poets include, which is that during periods of extreme mental distress, the feelings of loneliness and isolation seem too much to bear, but  “letting someone in” has no meaning.

Another theme echoed in the poems is the experience of lack of understanding from other people, family and friends included, who are apparently “normal”. I hate this word but it is relevant here as it is part of the problem; labelling people in negative terms. In “What is Understanding” by Jan MacAskill it appears that she has been given a label which she is afraid of owning. Now, I’m one of them too," and she associates “them” with,

 "…schizophrenics running
 Round with knives.
 Dangerous. Not living normal lives."

It seems that now, she will have to revaluate her position. Is she one of  “them“ or one of  “us“. Perhaps, like a lot of service users with labels, she may attempt to keep it a secret to avoid the stigma and lack of acceptance in general.

Along with isolation and lack of empathy, there is also a thread of fear running through a number of the poems. David Kemp, in his poem, says,

"WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT, YOUR HELP, AND YOUR AID.
WE NEED TO BE SHELTERED WHEN WE GET AFRAID."

His poem, written completely in capital letters, conveys very starkly the mix of painful feelings I mentioned earlier. In his very honest and detailed account of his own experience, he begins with a narrative covering the raw facts about the effect his illness has on his life. The nightmarish scenario of losing a sense of oneself is highlighted in the line, "Now your life`s not your own, you have no control". This sensation is very difficult to understand for someone who has not felt it. Many of the feelings described by David and the other poets are experiential. They are outside of our language but these poets have made a brave and genuine attempt at using the form of words to capture the unimaginable…Greater Goings on…

If you would like a copy of "Greater Goings On…" please send a cheque for £6 made payable to Asylum Associates to:

Asylum Associates
The Limbrick Centre
Limbrick Road
Sheffield, S6 2PE