Monday, 27 September 2010

Stepping Hill Open Day

Saturday, we held the launch of Patience at Stepping Hill Hospital. Coinciding with the Stepping Hill Open Day, we had a great mix of staff, patients and the general public view our book.

I took advantage of being next to the cake stall, and my whole family benefited from the fantastic chocolate roulade.  What I found most inspiring was the tireless work of the volunteers, what a fantastic bunch.

We got some more wonderful feedback to the Patience book. A retired teacher visiting the hospital, was excited by the book one particular artwork caught her attention,  Lost my Independence:

"The Spiral, the strength of steel, your mind is unwinding- like steel, gradually unwinding, from one side to another,  thats how I see it- that would express everything to me." Sylvia Piggott.

Friday, 24 September 2010

the minds of elderly patients

In response to our new book Patience, Advance Nurse Practitioner, Fiona Roscoe has written:

Who are we to know what is going on in the minds of elderly patients as they sit dutifully in their chairs waiting for the next ward round or cup of tea?

It is a time when many are at their most vulnerable and reflective but sometimes due to disability and ill health are unable to express themselves. The artists of
arthur+martha have patiently sat with these souls and helped them to unlock their thoughts. In doing so, not only do we have examples of unique creative art but also a new dimension in our appreciation of our most senior citizens. (referring to Stages of grief 1950 and Parachute Landing by Albert Burrows)

Fiona Roscoe RN DN MSc BSc(Hons) is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (Primary and Urgent Care)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

We are flames not flowers: Bhopal survivors film

Philip writes:

Last weekend I was lucky enough to meet the artist Daniel Gosling who uses walking as part of the making of his art. He sent me a link to a film he shot in 2006, accompanying survivors of the infamous Bhopal disaster on a 34 day protest walk across India. We're very proud to link to the film on our blog, it manages both to be beautiful and have a social conscience.

"In 2006 survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster (1984) walked 800km from Bhopal to Delhi. Their aim was to publicise and protest their continuing neglect by the government of India and Union Carbide/Dow Chemical's toxic legacy in Bhopal. The walk lasted 34 days. I walked with them every day of it." (Daniel Gosling)

Watching the film, I'm struck by the power of witnessing incidental details. Conversation snippets, jokes, glances - in a tiny space of time the film manages to catch a massive event by showing the small moments, rather than the grand. People walking with their backs to us, shared laughter, someone's foot twitching while they're asleep, an umberella painted with the slogan We are flames not flowers. It sidesteps the stale cliches of news reporting and also the documentary trap of unearned catharsis. Enough to see these people's faces and to acknowledge them, not as victims but as fellow folk, as you and I.

To view the 10 minute film on youtube, click on the orange title at the top of this blog: We are flames not flowers, or go to

Daniel has put the film on youtube under the title: Bhopal Survivors Fighters Walkers (short version)

Photos by Daniel Gosling:
1. Left to right: Shehzadi Bee, Champa Devi Shukla, Rashida Bee, Nafisa Bee
2. Leela Bi asleep among the other walkers

Note: Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and together won the Goldman Environmental Prize. Arundhati Roy can be glimpsed in one scene...

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Patience launch at Stepping Hill Hospital

We are pleased to announce that we will be launching our book PATIENCE, at Stepping Hill Hospital during their Open Day, Saturday 25th September,  between 12 pm. and 4.00 pm. During the afternoon, we will be based at E1, the Stroke Unit. You can find out more about the open day by visiting

schools of nursing

In response to our new book Patience, Advance Nurse Practitioner, Fiona Roscoe has written:

The stark honesty and desperation expressed by a stroke patient in 'Ever' provides a frightening insight into her world. I would advocate that schools of nursing examine their curriculums and ensure that students are given an opportunity to experience the art produced from this project as stopping to listen to what patients are telling us is key to knowing what needs to be done to help them.
Fiona Roscoe RN DN MSc BSc(Hons) is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (Primary and Urgent Care)

a stroke: it’s like freezing a piece of meat

waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting
a cancellation
put me back again
a slight stroke
couldn’t move my arm
so I lift it with the other one
don’t let it lie dead
rub the back of your hand
keep it going

and then it’s un-frozen

waiting and
try to keep moving
haul yourself
with a walking stick
to your exercises
tried, tired and knackered
they train you, so
if you fall in the house by yourself

but only in part and some remains

waiting and
trying to open the door
try to get to the phone
try to climb a step, up four inches
(one bad leg, two arms, nothing 100%)
terrifying thinking about it
don’t think, try to
get on, to stand

on ice.

24-31 July 2009

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Patients reading PATIENCE

Today was our first day on the wards with the new book PATIENCE, a deep baptism. Reading these poems in the place where they first came into being, often in circumstances of great suffering, was very moving - the response from patients was powerful and generally positive, though sometimes they too were a little overwhelmed. It was as if we were finally talking about the 'elephant in the room' - everyone's relieved, but it's an awkward moment.

"It brings a new outlook from my point of view, reading this book. It makes you think of something else in life, apart from yourself. You cheer one another up." (Madeleine)

"It's terrible in here, impossible to describe. You have to live it to understand. It can help a little to hear other's experiences. A little. Please come back again and read more poems." (Douglas)

"Very good that, very true. Pass it on... It's openness. You bring things out in people, so people don't close to you... a book like this is useful to read, helps with the patience, you need a lot of patience in here." Jean

We also shared the book with staff, many of whom remembered particular people featured in the collection. As so often happens, they said that they wished they still had time to talk to the patients as we are able to do.

"The emotional side gets overlooked. Without that, you are not treating people in depth. If a patient is in the process of getting better and they have psychological or emotional problems, they won't get better as easily. To verbalise and express their problems, they feel lighter, better... If it's repressed it affects them.

Conversing with them helps. They are away from their environment, in fear. Time is a factor. Take a minute or two, take time to listen and reassure them. Reading them this book will give them an idea of what a patient can expect to go through."

(Staff Nurse Mioji Baloguh)

On E1 the Stroke ward, we read poems to patients Madge and Marjorie, who commented:

"You feel very shaky and that, not kind of with it, you can't vision yourself. This book, it gives other people something of what you feel like."

A daughter, visiting her mother who'd had a stroke two weeks ago, said:

"The book would be nice for when they start recovering and can start reading - if they can't put their feelings into their own words, they could use the book to help." (Amanda)

We hope that PATIENCE will be helpful on the wards, a conversation opener, a comforter and perhaps a communication aid as Amanda describes. There's a point when a book, having been published, makes its own way, separate from the the makers. As we put PATIENCE out into the world, it is now starting to do just that, to have its identity inscribed by its readers.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Peoples art

In response to our new book Patience, Advance Nurse Practitioner, Fiona Roscoe has written:

Thumbing through the pages of this beautifully edited book your eyes are drawn to the different fonts and styles of expression on every page. What could have been unimaginative streams of text with predictably placed pictures is instead an attractive collection of 'people's art' that would grace any coffee table or bookshelf!
Fiona Roscoe RN DN MSc BSc(Hons) is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (Primary and Urgent Care)

You can download a sample chapter of Patience at It will soon be available for sale at Amazon.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Patience: coming into

In response to our new book Patience, Advance Nurse Practitioner, Fiona Roscoe has written:

Patience' defined as 'the ability to wait or endure without complaint'. The term suggests dignity and stoicism. Qualities that emerge from the participants in this book when their thoughts are expressed. For eg/ 'Coming into hospital for the fifth time.... (Mary Anandale)
Fiona Roscoe RN DN MSc BSc(Hons) is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (Primary and Urgent Care)

Coming into hospital for the fifth time
coming into hospital for the fifth
hate to think of so many times
it’s a desperate thought
I don’t want to think it
get on and forget sadness
get on with it and remember only the
who you’ve been with
where you’ve been you’re not yourself
I’m so glad that they come
I’m so glad that they come
I can’t say how often but they do
it’s action for yourself
to see someone
to see some with the same
perhaps the same difficulties
you are not alone
there are many people like you for better or worse
there are many people who like you
good people there are many
friends of myself friends of I
my place
sat in my chair
saw my place sat in my chair
I can see so much from here
I wish
I can see I can hear.

Mary Arrandale

Anona Entwhistle

Thursday, 16 September 2010

images of patience

In response to our new book Patience, Advance Nurse Practitioner, Fiona Roscoe has written:

Beautiful thought provoking images which could easily stand alone as large portraits or pieces of art. They belong on the walls of hospital waiting rooms, nursing home entrance halls, nursing and medical school refectories. Wherever somebody may pause before moving on to carry out their purpose, be this visiting an elderly relative, submitting an assignment or explaining to a patient that he cannot be discharged because he will not be safe on his own at home.
Fiona Roscoe RN DN MSc BSc(Hons) is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (Primary and Urgent Care)

2 photos of Violet Gamble © Lois Blackburn 2009

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

the art of nursing

In response to our new book Patience, Advance Nurse Practitioner, Fiona Roscoe has written:

There were times when I was reading this book that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I felt my eyes prick with tears. With over 20 years clinical experience I value and embrace those qualities which we consider as a profession to be 'the Art of Nursing'. What this book does however, is give you 'the Art of patients'. Connecting with the meanings of the pictures and words has been profoundly humbling.

Fiona Roscoe RN DN MSc BSc(Hons) is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (Primary and Urgent Care)

Friday, 10 September 2010

William Blake and the Naked Teaparty RSVP

I've been thinking about handwriting and the importance of touch in what we do at arthur+martha. I guess Lois takes this for granted, because she has a textiles background. But as a writer, I rarely notice the quality of the writing itself, the mark. The shaky inked lines, written by older people in hospital beds, often speak as volubly as the poems themselves.

I'm kitterpawed, as they say in Ireland. I grew up in Northern Ireland around great religious anxiety that wormed thru all. For a short period when I was a child, I tried writing with my right hand because I thought it'd please God. No one told me to do it, but I picked up the idea half-intuitively. My older brother had been a lefthander taught to use his right.

Those childish words on a schoolbook page were important enough to be contested. A fingerprint, a cross to vote, a signature, your mark, an autograph. The witnessing signatures to a peace treaty, or an arrest warrant, these marks have import too. The human trace is the basic stuff of liberty and expression.

What happens when they are removed? We write now without handwriting: Microsoft or Apple our imprinteur.

Early this year, I edited an edition of the online magazine Ekleksographia. The work in it emphasises the handmade, the haptic. The makers of the work included are poets and artists who trace a lineage of lines thru to William Blake, the great handmaker in English lit. Bob Cobbing is of this family too, and the Outsider artists. And so too are the makers in PATIENCE, who fought bravely with pain and distress to leave their marks on a page for us.

Thursday, 9 September 2010


Poet Steve Waling writes about visiting his mother in hospital. This piece was sent to us by Steve in reponse to PATIENCE, our collection of poetry and artworks by older people in hospital.

a bundle of sticks /// writhes on a bed
it’s hard to believe in God /// are there any crackers
mum you’re in hospital /// oh I forgot
visiting hours /// are between 6 and 8

but now you’re here /// are there any crackers
close the curtains /// is there a party next door
pull the sheet back over her /// oh I forgot
ambulance siren /// like a startled cat

it’s the delivery suite /// what’s all that banging
dissociated as to place /// acute serious infection
but now you’re here /// it’s hard to believe in
nurse wipes down plastic mattress /// when there’s such

I saw rabbits on the lawn /// I’m hungry
they should bite the bullet /// just get on with it
she tries to climb out of a sheet /// a bundle of sticks
close the curtains /// are there any crackers

the eyes don’t connect /// no but there’s chocolate
disoriented as to place /// I’ll have some of that
see God in mother’s face /// like a startled cat
is there a party next door /// oh I forgot

Steve Waling's book Travelator is published by Salt. Steve teaches creative writing, occasionally in prisons, and reads his poems in public at any given opportunity. His poems might be described as gentle experiments in intimacy, sometimes awkward and always without pretension. He writes the blog Brando's Hat.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance

Our co-worker, the poet Rebecca Guest, writes about the shared experience of making PATIENCE.

These lines occur because of company they are nothing without company.  These lines occur because as the tongue rolls a pen captures; conversations that are captured upon the page express the core of what is latent, meant.  The work is cut to bring the intensity of emotion to the forefront with the maximum expression.  These exchanges of experience are a point of contact which moves beyond people as statistics and beds - to value what it means to be human.

PATIENCE searches our existential struggle with those who are currently amid emotions of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

One difference to other poetic explorations of grief is that these people are not alone, the contributors have a scribe, to express their thoughts to.  The second difference is that participants of this project are speaking whilst in the midst of physical and mental life challenges.

The book's rawness and rich content through words, imagery, subtext and understanding is because of the unique relationship and setting these exchanges of experience take place to create PATIENCE.

Rebecca Guest

Rebecca Guest has been a long-standing collaborator with arthur+martha. She helped to set up Kindness our holocaust survivor project and has supported us during many hundreds of hours in hospital workshops. Rebecca led several sessions for PATIENCE, gathering poems and insights for the book. Her editing work on the poems helped to push their aesthetic, to let them stretch out.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Close-reading PATIENCE

Matt Dalby is one of several contemporary poets we asked to repsond to PATIENCE. Here, Matt traces a path between two pieces: Be Patient by Margaret Hargreaves, the poem that states the theme of the collection, and a self-exploration of Parkinson's Disease by Doreen Jones, Thee Thy Summer.

Margaret Hargreaves’ Be Patient includes the line ‘was a dressmaker’. There is a sense here that Margaret may no longer be who she was, or at least may feel she is no longer who she was. But it is not a sentimental, nostalgic, ‘when I was younger’ reverie. It is a lot more interesting than that. Here are skills and experience, here is something that makes the loss or impairment of capabilities with illness become more real. Here is something that is often hidden.

Anecdote. An elderly Muslim man in Trafford walking slowly around two parks supported on either side by two young women who appear to be his daughters. The sight is only striking because it is so unusual.

But this is to make assumptions. The assumption that ‘was a dressmaker’ refers to Margaret Hargreaves herself. The assumption of impairment through illness. The assumption that the women supporting the elderly man are his daughters. The only assumption for which there is any evidence is the first of these:

‘I call myself
a quiet person

was a dressmaker
if a stitch went wrong
I set it right
in two words, two small words’

But without knowing the author, and without knowing how the poem was put together it is a dangerous assumption to make. And even if it were a simple statement of fact about the author it only provides limited information. Many people could say ‘was a shop assistant’ and it would tell you precisely nothing about them.

Even so, this is a relatively straightforward poem in comparison to a poem like Doreen Jones’ Thee Thy Summer, which is much more fragmented. Thoughts are abandoned partway through, broken into fragments, and revisited later. The kind of fractures recur throughout the collection. Numbers play a large role in the text, as if they are fixed points within a generalized confusion:

’21 x pills a day’

‘fell 4 x times’

‘7 in morning’

Some numbers, especially 21, recur in the poem. So too does 7. The poem itself is arranged in six stanzas of seven lines in pairs across three columns, which might be read as three sonnets. But there is an ambiguity introduced by fragmenting the poem that means the poem need not be read down each column in turn running left to right. It is also possible to read each line across the columns, or the first stanza of each column in turn. Both of these reading give a poem in two halves of 21 lines each.

The first stanza gives a good sense of how the poem is constructed, and contains words and phrases that recur in the rest of the poem:

’21 x pills a day
make sweet thy beauty
parkinson’s you see
started vertigo
dizzy all the while
fell 4 x times = smashed face
started parkinson’s’

’21’, ‘make sweet’, ‘thy beauty’, ‘parkinson’s you see’, ‘started’, ‘vertigo’, and ‘parkinson’s’ all appear again. Even while broken into pieces the poem circles itself, its own areas of concern, giving it a unity and coherence it might initially seem to lack.

This does not seem designed to imitate any particular mental confusion so much as it feels like an act of resistance. Illness is defined more by medication than by symptoms, and both are an inconvenience. And here and there some aspect of a person (the subject of the poem? the author?) keeps slipping out. This is not loss but an ongoing negotiation with life and illness.

From the four sections I have read this idea of an ongoing negotiation with life and illness is a consistent theme throughout the book. For me this allows for a far greater human interaction and identification with the experiences of the authors than some sentimental veneration of their wisdom and remembrance of things past. To acknowledge the frustrations, pain, anger and limitations of age-related illness is surely more healthy than a vague sympathy. It does not make for a comfortable read, and the poetry is not instantly recognizable as the personal reminiscence and anecdote in conventional forms you might expect from a project of this nature. To my mind this is a good thing. It is more interesting and compelling for the reader.

It would be interesting to know whether the experience of creating the book was more satisfying for the participants than just writing a set of conventional personal reminiscences. Certainly one of my initial thoughts in response to being approached to comment on the book was that experimental approaches, being less codified, less familiar, might be more accessible than more conventional poetry. We all have an idea of what conventional poetry should look like, and that it has a number of rules that we do not understand. These preexisting ideas can limit what we feel is possible, and therefore what we ultimately produce. Whatever the truth, the more experimental approach has led to a book you are actually likely to read and return to, rather than pick up out of sympathy and never open again.

Matt Dalby is an experimental poet whose works take shape within multiple approaches and mediums, including sound and visual making. His blog Santiago's Dead Wasp is a key journal of experimental writing and related events in the North West of England, as well as a document of Matt's ongoing project. His extraordinary communal Mutapoem is world-embracing.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Spaghetti Maze

Our proposed new arts project Spaghetti Maze, is beginning to taking shape. Spaghetti Maze will be a 'how to' publication, that documents examples of our art and poetry workshops, with Dementia sufferers, their carers and specialist staff.

I'm always on the look out for material that gives me a better understanding of the subject of Dementia, and wanted to share an wonderful and deeply moving account of living with Alzheimer's I just heard on the radio. Dale Griffin was drummer with Mott The Hoople and went on to become a successful music producer, he describes how Alzheimer's has changed his life in an interview on Radio 4s Saturday Live Also in the program TV presenter Fiona Philips had a frank and informative discussion about her parents with Dementia, and the impact the disease has on all their lives. Her book Before I Forget is published by Preface.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Reading Patience x 2

Responses to our forthcoming publication PATIENCE, a collection of art and poetry by older people in hospital.

I love the fact that your work nurtures older people and dignifies their experiences within the context of an environment that conspires to be demeaning and perhaps dispiriting. I especially appreciate the contrast of individual voices on found packaging such as medicine boxes - items which could assume disproportionate importance within a hospital or care home. Placing words and testimony on medicine packets, especially words that are so cheeky, wise and poignant, make me laugh, and smile, and cry.

(Penny Anderson, Journalist)

As a piece of work itself I think it has a real simplicity and tenderness that opens something very ordinary and yet profound in the reader. It makes you care, and makes you think for a little longer about these experiences and what they mean, to you and to them and to all of us.

(Amanda Kilroy, Medical Researcher)

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Reading PATIENCE - by Scott Thurston

The first copies of PATIENCE, our collection of art and poetry by older people in hospital, are about to be delivered to us. It's a book that's taken much labour and considerable love, so we are in a state of anticipation. Various poets, artists, medical practitioners and (most importantly) patients have very kindly made responses to the book and we will post these on the blog over the next weeks. Scott Thurston at Salford University wrote an overview piece, taking up themes and questions raised in PATIENCE. We felt that Scott's sensitive and insightful essay would be a good way into the debate...


‘take pills like new ideas’
(acceptance, chpt 5)

This latest offering from arthur + martha is a collection of poetry, text and artworks based on older people’s experiences of ill-health and hospitalisation. Divided into five parts, its structure is based on the five stages of the ‘cycle of grief’: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. What is remarkable about a+m’s approach is that they use a whole host of techniques associated with innovative and experimental writing in order to frame people’s experiences. The results are simply extraordinary. In these works, the notion of writing and creativity as ‘therapeutic’ does not do justice to the seriousness and the ambition of the project, which is experimental in the truest sense. The diversity of the approach is key. In one strand of the project, creative work emerges from the charged objects of the everyday: medicine boxes getting a makeover by acquiring new labels like ‘take one glass of sunshine a day with water’ or ‘all’s well that ends well’ – the latter on medication for trapped wind relief! In another strand, it is postcards – pictures of famous buildings cut out and stuck on the reverse, creating a new space for words – in another (‘Lost and Found’), text is appended to actual objects – poignantly the label ‘Lost – your husband or your wife’ is attached to a tiny, empty chair.

Aside from these text-objects, there are many poems in the book – some co-authored and often produced using collage and/or cut-up techniques. Ron Miles’ ‘The Old Grenadiers’ is a particularly effective poem which opens:
'you’re 96 years
thy image
an old Grenadier'
(anger, chpt 2)

A stoic meditation on ageing, Miles’ narrator has ‘pain’s / red medal round my neck’ but is still able to conclude: ‘though new-fangled ill / this old dog’s prouder still.’ Elsewhere, Allan Whittaker and Frank Wigley offer a collaborative work, juxtaposing accounts of football history with a patient’s current predicament in a poem called ‘Football’ which is shaped like one on the page. Thus the story of the Busby Babes and their fate in the 1958 Munich air crash leads to some striking reflections:
'you’ve got to be determined to stay alive otherwise this world will see you off falling
into chaos somebody needs to mop the world nurse sort the ends out I’m sat in a
chair thinking literature I cant express god’s fire in the head'
(bargaining, chpt 3)

What is most impressive here is how the innovative techniques employed lead to a genuine creative opportunity. These poems show that an approach to creativity that recognises and utilises language’s physicality and malleability, immediately makes a connection between body and art object. By bringing creative practice closer to embodied experience, and breaking habits – of thought, of feeling, of experiencing – along the way, it is clear that these authors find new ways to express complex physical states that might be hard, or impossible, to achieve by other means. Illustrative of this, a group poem entitled ‘Now My Genius is Gone’ mourns the loss of creative autonomy but simultaneously finds the means for its recovery:
now my genius is some worthless song
I use a lever a little
and it comes back.'
(bargaining, chpt 4)

The personal empowerment resulting from this approach is testified to over and over again in these pages. Another group poem, entitled ‘A Kingdom’ argues ‘a body case / can’t case your mind’ and identifies the meaning behind the central pun of the title:
'when you’re in pain
teaches you something
teaches patience'
(acceptance, chpt 5)

Raymond West, the author of two excellent poems in the book, also comes out fighting in ‘Overcome’:

'have a bout with life
live to the full
an incurable disease'
(acceptance, chpt 5)

There is much more to admire in this beautifully-produced book: terrific photographs of the authors – including an impressive double portrait of Violet Gamble – and a series of text-images entitled ‘our needs are very small’ which link writing with images of wards. There are also several highly informative interview-articles from the perspective of various practitioners – care assistants, nursing sisters, a diabetic nurse, medical directors – offering insightful reflections on their experiences alongside more detailed accounts of working with dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

A key message emerges in this book about trust – not only the trust to be won by care practitioners and creative workers such as arthur + martha, and to which end their creative strategies are invaluable – but also the trust to be granted to those older people in care contexts. As Stephen Watkins argues, the expectation of dependency that many of us have is one to be resisted, otherwise care can too often slide into control. As Watkins puts it:
'You mustn’t become dependent before you really need to – and also when you are dependent, you still should be allowed to make choices, be trusted to take risks.'
(bargaining, chpt 3)

It is clear from the breadth and verve of the work of this book, that a trust in risk-taking has been fully embraced by everyone involved – in this way fulfilling the experimental essence of creativity.

Dr Scott Thurston

Scott Thurston lectures at the University of Salford where he runs a Masters in Innovative and Experimental Creative Writing. He co-runs The Other Room reading series in Manchester, edits The Radiator, a little magazine of poetics, and co-edits The Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry with Robert Sheppard. He has published three collections with Shearsman.