Menu of Poems aims to provide access to contemporary poetry for clients, staff and the wider hospital community in a range of healthcare settings.
It aims to create a space for poetic reverie in the course of a health service user’s day in hospital or elsewhere and is a simple and creative way of bringing poetry into existing arts and health programmes around the country.
In the words of poet Mark Roper who edited the Menu of Poems in 2011, ‘we hope that patients enjoy reading and thinking about the imagery and music of these poems, and that the worlds they create will give them their own moments out of time.’
The five anthologies of poetry produced through this project were compiled into a simple pamphlet for easy circulation to health service users.
The first anthology in 2009 was edited by the Waterford Healing Arts Trust and featured the poetry of nine poets with connections to the south east of Ireland. In 2010, the anthology was compiled by Galway University Hospital’s Trust and was based on the contributions of the five participating arts and health programmes. It featured eight poems by six poets. In 2011, the Waterford Healing Arts Trust with funding from Poetry Ireland commissioned Mark Roper to edit an anthology on the theme ‘A Moment in Time’. This anthology featured the work of eight poets and was co-ordinated by the Waterford Healing Arts Trust.
The 2012 Menu of Poems was coordinated by Naas General Hospital’s Arts Committee. It was edited by Kildare based poet and writer Mae Leonard and includes poems by both established and emergent poets.
The 2013 offering, A Gathering Place, was edited by the Sligo based poet and visual artist Alice Lyons with support from an Advisory Group of healthcare professionals and service users and was coordinated by the Arts Initiative in Mental Health, a programme of the Mental Health Services Sligo Leitrim. With gatherings of all kinds taking place across the Island of Ireland in 2013, it was fitting that the menu gathered together poetry that deals with kinship, travel, gathering of one’s self and a poem about a table – what better gathering place?
The Menu of Poems reaches service users in a number of ways. For example, in Waterford Regional Hospital (WRH) and Naas General Hospital, they are distributed via the meal trays.
In West Cork, staff and patients of Bantry General Hospital, Castletownbere, Clonakilty, Dunmanway, Skibereen and Schull Community Hospitals received them during the serving of meals. A recording of arts for health artist and storyteller Sean O’Laoghaire reading the poems was available to each of the patients to listen to during the day.
In 2011, the Menu of Poems was accompanied by a series of events on All Ireland Poetry Day including poetry readings and workshops. In Sligo, in celebration of poetry (and tea!), writer Gerry Boland gave a private reading from his poetry book ‘Watching Clouds’ at Liscarney House Day Hospital, Psychiatry of Later Life in Sligo Town. People whom this service supports and members of staff were invited to bring a copy of their favourite poem for poetry sharing and discussion. There was a lunchtime public reading of the poems by hospital staff in the church of Waterford Regional Hospital. Galway University Hospital & Merlin Park hosted a poetry reading by Michael Gorman and a group of staff read the poems. Artists at Dunmanway Day Care Centre embarked on a four day art project based on participants’ favourite songs/poems. On All Ireland Poetry Day 2012, Shirley McClure gave a public reading from her collection Whose Counting? in Waterford Regional Hospital.
Between 2009 and 2013, five short anthologies of poetry were produced featuring the work of 30 poets.
In 2011, the project was evaluated internally via the Arts and Health Coordinators Ireland (AHCI). The feedback from this informed the direction of the project for the subsequent year. Feedback from patients was also invited.
Feedback from staff and patients in the participating hospitals and programmes was positive. Niamh O’ Connor in Arts in Mental Health Sligo said that patients and staff thought it was a beautiful idea and were delighted to keep the pamphlet. According to Justine Foster of West Cork Arts Centre, participants were still reading the poems a long time after the event. Some feedback was also emailed directly to the Waterford Healing Arts Trust.
One patient in Galway University Hospital wrote: ‘Whoever thought of Poetry & Porridge….. well done! I enjoyed all of them, each in its own “frame” of, a smile, a tear, a longing and many more feelings. Slan go foill and I hope each poet continues to fill our days with wonder and smiles.’
The poems travelled as far as Australia with Rosemary Sheehan from Melbourne writing: ‘I am particularity taken by Grace Wells’ poem, how she captures all the experiences of hospital is so well crafted.’
Documentation and Dissemination
It is estimated that the Menus of Poems reached 7000 health service users, staff and visitors in 2011 alone.
The project was featured on TG4’s art programme Imeall in October 2012.
Arts and Health Co-ordinators Ireland
Arts for Health Partnership Programme at West Cork Arts Centre,
Beaumont Hospital Arts Committee,
Arts in Health at Cork University Hospital,
Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust,
Arts Initiative in Mental Health, Sligo, Leitrim, South Donegal and West Cavan,
Naas General Hospital Arts Committee,
Peamount Hospital Arts programme,
The Adelaide & Meath Hospital, Dublin
St Luke’s Hospital Arts committee, Kilkenny,
Twilight Programme at St Patrick’s University Hospital, Dublin.