The Healing Word  

The Healing Word is Fiona Sampson's practical guide to poetry and personal development activities. Full of information, step by step approaches, and guidelines to setting up poetry projects in a therapeutic setting. Available from the Poetry Society - order here

'A blossom fills the lawns of scented gardens,
Fluttering whispers fill the patient's throat.
Love is more than the simple acts of kindness:
It comes from deep within us like a note.'

'The Professional Poet' By Selima Hill
(From The Accumulation of Small Acts of Kindness)

What do we mean by 'poetry and healing'? Do poets write because it makes them feel better? Are there differences between the experiences or needs of writers and readers? What's the point of writing in health care?

Fiona Sampson pioneered the development of writing in health care in the UK. The Healing Word, commissioned by the Poetry Society, researches the nature and effects of poetry and healing activities. Based on actual accounts by workers and users in the health care system it is a thought-provoking look at poetry's restorative qualities.

The link between poetry and healing is not new. In ancient Greece patients in the hospital at Epidaurus would visit the theatre there as part of their cure. In the Bible David sings to calm Saul and in many cultures chanting is an intrinsic part of the healing ritual.

In more recent times there has been a healthy growth in a diverse range of therapeutic writing projects, a number of which Fiona discribes and discusses.

Helen Finch, for example, a carer looking after her mother, who suffers from dementia, read about poet John Killick's work with Alzheimer's Disease and invited him to work with her mother in her nursing home. She explained:

"It seemed to offer some hope...I was tremendously impressed by how much Eve was able to express to him.... She was able, despite the severity of her speech impairment, to talk both widely and deeply and to vouchsafe to him things which she might not have done to me"

To quote from the poem John Killick made from the meetings:

'The past...I think a lot about it...
I'm thinking when...I'm not saying anything...
It's silverly, perfectly silverly'

The Healing Word was published as part of a Poetry Place working in Salisbury Health Care NHS Trust and was supported by Southern Arts, Salisbury Health Care NHS Trust and Salisbury Arts Centre.