Twenty years after he died, Sally Festing inherited an archive of her father’s letters and diaries. Through these she learnt how her aunt and uncle, who she never knew, had been destroyed by schizophrenia. The suffering of his brother and sister drove her father, the neuroscientist Derek Richter, to establish the Mental Health Foundation. Sally talks with familiarity, respect and affection for relatives she got to know largely through studying her father’s records. Her poems vividly capture the lives of people whose suffering led to greater understanding and support for those suffering mental illness.
Sally also offers a writing exercise for writing poems from letters:
“Look at a few letters from the same person. He or she doesn’t need to be family, lots of poets write letters. I suppose they could equally well be emails.
“I’ve books of letters by Keats, and WS Graham. The last has always been an inspiration to me. His letters are pure poetry.
“A method I suggest to come up with a poem, is to copy out lines that interest, on a large page and read through until gradually, a form suggests itself that sends a message.”
So find some letters, see where it takes you and do share the results. Email here or share on social media using #poetrynonstop. The best will be featured on the blog and future podcasts.
Find out more about Sally Festing on her website: sallyfesting.info
My Darling Derry can be purchased here with all proceeds going to the Mental Health Foundation.