WriteWords talks to Michael Lee, editor of Poems in the Waiting Room, who publish new and classic poetry and distribute throughout Uk NHS waiting rooms.|
Tell us about Poems in the Waiting Room- how it started, what it is, why
PitWR grew from the CitLit Poetry Club: members spent much time in NHS waiting rooms. I put together a twelve page pamphlet with poems from the canon and membersí own verse in early 1996 for a trail run. It was welcome at surgeries in and around Richmond but the format proved highly costly. I spent the next year or so looking for funding, and arrived at the current economic format (one A4 card triple folded printed both sides) in 1998. I decided then that only way to get the project moving was to fund the operation myself. I had two or three thousand printed and distributed to some thirty or so primary care practices in SW London and Surrey. The pamphlets proved highly popular, and demand grew substantially mainly by word of mouth. By early 2003, the total waiting rooms supplied was reaching some 400 about the limit of the budget I would stand without other support. Happily the Arts Council came up with matching funds for a programme of substantial growth to some two thousand waiting rooms. Now we have reached the half way mark.
Who do you pick and why
I carried out a survey on the original pamphlet and talked to NHS staff. They much preferred a combination of works from the canon and new poems.
What kind of writing are you looking for?
Our guidelines are very restrictive. Readers are patients waiting for a consultation and are probably anxious and concerned, and possibly even emotionally disturbed. A poem is acceptable only when it is sensitive to these feeling in ways that alleviate the pressure and avoid new emotional challenge. Poems should therefore flow from the springs of well-being. Hope is all-inclusive, but like images and symbols, such as home and acceptance, safe journey and arrival, friends and companionship, care and security, harvest and abundance, work and reward, books and learning, beauty and transcendence, spring and renaissance, together with all the joys of love and loving, are eminently appropriate.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Personally my preferred writing is of course poetry with Edward Thomas, Auden and Tennyson among the favourites. Ed Thomas because of content and gentle style, Auden for marvellous range and Tennyson for sheer brilliance of technique. Otherwise I read history with the classics Gibbon and the like plus translations of Greek and Latin historians.
Do you choose a particular type of poem- content or style- to suit the very specific context the work sits in?
Most certainly. In making a selection often one poems sparks off another so the collection produces a coherent whole. In the end it is the bouquet rather than the individual bloom that counts.
What excites you about a piece of writing-
Content, when looking for works to suit guidelines, then accessibility, style and technique.
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