Guest blog by The Emergency Poet, National Poetry Day Ambassador
A Day in the Life of an Emergency Poet
I’ve been an Emergency Poet, travelling all over the country to festivals, schools, libraries, hospitals, and more for nearly five years. I usually travel with my partner poet James Sheard, who drives the vintage ambulance and acts as a poemedic and generally looks after me.
A typical event usually involves a long drive in the old girl, struggling with the noise in the cab and no power steering and we turn up to a festival site or a town centre and set up.
We often compare ourselves to carnies, as we hoist up the awning, hang out bunting and set up tables and chairs and a pharmacy . At this point, if we’ve time, we get a coffee and take a breath. We love working for librarians...they always, always bring us biscuits!
Then we work outside all day engaging with members of the public, inviting them to take a ‘poem-in-a-pill’ or offer them a full consultation inside the ambulance.
Emergency Poet is a piece of theatre, a quack doctor show and also at its heart, a vehicle (pun-intended) for sharing and disseminating poetry. The process involves a ‘patient’ invited in to the back of the ambulance, they are then asked to lie down on a stretcher and , dressed as a medical doctor, I sit behind a clipboard and write down answers to a series of non-invasive questions, in a self-conscious pastiche of an old-fashioned psychotherapist set-up. At the end of about ten minutes I will ask the ‘patient’ if they would like a poem for a particular ‘ailment’. At this stage they might ask for a cure for a broken heart, something for loneliness, or maybe a tonic to lift their spirits. Although the process is light-hearted , the poems ‘prescribed’ are wise, intelligent, beautiful and often the connection with a stranger for me, is intimate and profound. You can get a better idea of what goes on in this short BBC News video http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29352405
I put people at their ease, so that the experience is a pleasant one. I ask questions about a favourite place to read a book, how they relax, or an ideal view from a window; all questions are designed to
get to know someone quickly, to get to the heart of them; to establish a kind of intimacy without being invasive. I think that this is what poetry can do more than any other art. It is empathy, intimacy, connection, a blessing, a tonic, a rant, a prayer...
I do this with one ‘patient’ after another for hours, often as many as 30 people, while Jim talks to maybe another 100 people outside. This is very very intensive work for me and I get very tired. At the end of the day, we then have to take all the awning down and pack away, and often have a long drive home.
Despite how tiring it is, it’s something that I continue to love to do! I think though that next year I’ll do fewer, as I’m getting on a bit and haven’t got as much energy as I used to have!
You can find out more about The Emergency Poet at www.emergencypoet.com!