A new era


It is cold.  The weather system responsible is an area of high pressure that is drawing air straight from Siberia into a clockwise circle around the UK.  Spring seems to be held at bay as Easter approaches.  This long winter is creating tension – everyone I talk to is waiting for something to give.

Something has ‘given’ for me personally.  Since qualifying as a Poetry Therapist in 2005, I have been wondering about training to train others.  There were all kinds of reasons to hesitate.  The formal field is tiny.  As far as I know in Europe, there are just four of us who trained with the US.  Jill Teague in Wales who runs Out of the Blue, Dr Niall Hickey in Ireland who runs Poetry Reach, Dr Jurate Sucylaite, a psychiatrist in Lithuania – and me.  In the UK, Lapidus, the closest to a professional organisation, has a few hundred members.  There is an innovative MSc course in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes offered by the Metanoia Institute that overlaps with Poetry Therapy and is as far as I know, the only academic course on the subject in the country. And yet, I meet people all the time who instantly ‘get’ what poetry therapy offers.

I offer courses in many different settings for organisations whose own agendas and purposes are disparate.  It’s a bit like a Venn diagram, where I will overlap to some extent, but not entirely.  One hesitation in beginning training is that I need to do it within one organisation with its particular culture, style and orthodoxy.  There are obviously gains and losses in doing that, especially when the only two organisations I know of accrediting poetry therapists are not in this country.  But I have decided to apply to the longer-standing one, and hope to keep open the rich relationships I have within the other.

This decision-making hasn’t been easy and I’ve been reminded of a wonderful poem by Gillian Clarke, apt for the time of year, and also the current weather, when so many sheep are dying on snow-bound farms in what is the height of the lambing season.  Called A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998, Gillian sets a specific incident against the backdrop of the struggle for peace in the world.  The Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland was signed on the 10th April, Good Friday, 1998.  You can read the poem here.

The Good Friday Agreement was, and is, of course, complicated but the salient fact for me now is that it acknowledged the people have, and will always have, different alleigances but, mostly, want to live together peacefully in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

As Canterbury moves towards Easter, there have been other echoes of tensions that are at long last ‘giving’.  The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, enthroned down the road from me last Thursday, is quoted in the Church Times as saying ‘We’ve got to find good ways of listening to what they have to say, and them listening to what others have to say. I mean, you don’t have to agree to be in the same Church – we very seldom do agree in the same Church – but you have to find ways in which we continue to love each other, because that’s the primary calling.’  It would be possible to subsititute ‘poetry therapy’ for the Church here.

And on Tuesday, I had the privilege of hearing Labour peer Leslie Griffiths speak on ecumenism, mostly on the relationships between Methodists, Roman Catholics and Anglicans, but more globally, offering an impassioned plea for ways forward that focus on what’s important rather than the technicalities of organisations, religious or otherwise. It was a brilliant and moving lecture. He observed how some leaders have ‘a largeness of soul that cannot be contained by their denomination’.  His own soul struck me as extremely large! With reference to organisations, specifically here the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church, he re-formulated the parable of the prodigal son as that of a ‘prodigal mother’ who is wasting her capital of goodwill whilst her children wait for her to come home.  My own sense is that the recent crises in organised religion are in fact helpful in moving children towards adulthood where their parents can no longer be seen as infallible.

I’ll leave it to my friend and colleague Niall in Ireland to blog on poetry and the new Pope – but it does feel like some kind of thaw is underway, even if the spring weather has yet to show itself.  It may be a difficult birth becoming a mentor-supervisor for poetry therapists but I plan to pull ‘harder than we dared’ to make it work.