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.
No one knows what it means for eyes to chime or how a song can spin.
Avouleance is a writer living in Norwich interested in exploring experiences with mental health difficulties through their writing. When not writing they’re studying for a masters in computational chemistry as a hobby.
In this episode Avouleance talks about living with autism and related mental health issues and how creative writing helps them express how they see the world. They also explain why they find Reddit a useful platform for exchanging ideas and sharing work.
Avouleance’s writing exercise Take a non-fiction book, open it at a random page and use whatever that page is about as a metaphor for what a character is going through and write a poem about it. You can hear Patrick’s response using a recipe for roast goose from a Hungarian cookbook.
Find out more about Avouleance on their Facebook page. More writing by Avouleance mentioned in the podcast:
In this episode Jenny Pagdin talks about her experiences of post-natal psychosis which she explores in her pamphlet Caldbeck. She discusses how poetry can convey the inexpressible and reads a few poems. She also sets an exercise for writing a gratitude poem.
Jenny’s writing exercise
“Gratitude can come in many forms, some purer than others, including appreciation, relief, obligation, awe and intimacy. You may want to add to this list. The exercise I have set out below is designed to be taken slowly.”
1) For three days, keep a gratitude diary. Each day, list at least three things you feel grateful for. It doesn’t matter who you’re grateful to, this isn’t a religious practice and doesn’t require any beliefs. Research shows that noting down what we’re grateful for makes us happier and is not a bad habit to follow every now and then.
2) Read some odes (praise poems) like Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn or Pablo Neruda’s Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market.
3) Think of the last time something made you happy – can you feel grateful to anyone (or to the universe at large) for this? If possible, talk with a friend about what made you happy.
4) When you feel ready, start mapping out a gratitude map using pen and paper (think spider diagram). Drawing is fine too.
5) Wait until the moment takes you for this stage – I don’t think you can write a gratitude poem without being genuinely grateful. When you’re ready, use your map to develop a poem, letting the thing(s) you are grateful for lead the form you use. Some tricks that have helped me in the past are to think about odes, hymns and list poems – but you may have different ideas. Good luck!
When you have written a poem please share for the chance to be published on the website or featured on the podcast. You can send poems by email here, share them in the comments section of this post or share them on social media using #poetrynonstop.
Born in High Wycombe to a British-Lebanese family, Jenny Pagdin studied BA English at Oxford University and MA Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Her pamphlet Caldbeck, which tells the story of her postnatal psychosis, was published by Eyewear in 2017, shortlisted for the Mslexia pamphlet competition and listed by the Poetry Book Society. John Redmond said that “After reading these inward, psychologically acute poems, the reader is likely to be haunted for some time.” Pagdin won the Café Writers Norfolk prize 2017 (“lovely dark stuff!” – Liz Berry) and was longlisted for the Rebecca Swift Foundation Women’s Poetry Prize 2018. In addition to mental health, Pagdin is drawn to metaphysical, parenting and relationship themes. Her work is often concerned with extreme or indescribable states, Hopkins’ “no-man-fathomed” mountains in the mind. She is working on a new collection to include supernatural themes and has an interest in the meeting points between shared and other ‘realities’.
She is an active member of the Norwich Stanza and regularly gives readings locally and in London. As well as writing poetry, Pagdin is a fundraiser, mother, wife, Reiki student and occasional crafter.