Friday is Library Day for patients on Arden Ward at Stepping Hill Hospital.
And, if you didn’t know already, reading is very good for your mental health. (Probably not if it’s by Piers Morgan or the Tory party manifesto, mind.)
Reading quality literature and poetry, however, is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety.
Quite serendipitously, I came across this collection of poetry by Mary Dickins entitled Happiness FM. I thought her poem, ‘How to administer a poem in an emergency’ was perfectly apt for the group. So, I thought I’d share it with you.
And here is the poem from whence the collection takes its name.
Of course, our visits to the library aren’t just about reading. They’re about social interaction and doing other mindful activities.
I first became aware of Aimee Mann via her soundtrack for P.T. Anderson’s sensational ensemble movie “Magnolia”.
In fact, Anderson said it was Mann’s lyrics that inspired the screenplay. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so. It features an array of fabulous actors, including the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, John C. Riley, Julianne Moore, Melora Walters and a sublime acting masterclass from Tom Cruise. Here’s the trailer:
But it’s Aimee Mann’s classic, ‘literate lyricism’ that I want to revisit. Anderson actually used her lyrics as a dialogue in the movie for Claudia’s character played by Melora Walters:
“Now that I’ve met you,
would you object to,
never seeing each other again?”
Here are three of my favourite songs from the soundtrack, but this time from Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse, which I hadn’t seen before, so I wanted to share them with the class.
And now, from the movie…
with the entire ensemble.
And here she is doing a cover of The Cars’ classic, ‘Drive’ about self-denial and facing up to alcoholism.
(You can still watch it, just click on the link to YouTube.)
Exquisite Corpse, or Cadavre Exquis, to give it its original French title, started out as a surrealist writing game in 1920s Paris. The name comes from a line in one of the original games: “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.” Penned by Andre Breton.
It’s quite simple really, you just write a sentence and then fold it over (leaving part of the sentence uncovered) and pass it on. The next person carries on where you left off. Obviously, you need a few people to do it. Four is a good number. At the end of the page, or whenever you feel like stopping, unfold the paper and read it as one complete piece. I can guarantee you it will be surreal.
You’ve probably already played the pictorial version of the game as a kid, (or with your kids). It’s the same principle – you draw the head and shoulders of a person or creature then fold it over. The next person draws the torso and the next draws the legs and feet.
I remember playing this game in a restaurant in Dublin once. Me and three friends/colleagues went for lunch at one o’clock and left at two. Not an hour later, but 13 hours later. (We had dinner as well.) We didn’t play the game for the whole 13 hours, but it did wile away the time between blinis and Bellinis.
Why am I telling you this? Well, you should try it. It’s fun. I’ve played it at various arts groups over the years and it’s always gone down well. And, because a colleague of mine played it recently with her flatmates and I thought what they wrote was brilliant so I wanted to share it with the class.
“The clouds above parted, like the Red Sea, revealing the beautiful, chiselled face on the moon. The man who lived a monochrome and solitary life. The lonely lifestyle of a duck on water; the only ripple on the pond. What a privilege it is to revel in the wonder of nature – and forget, for a second, the pain of being alive. In contrast the joys make it all worthwhile. I sit on the edge pondering what I dreamt about last night. The shapeless figure slipping through the doorway, watching me sleep. I dream of my own life, of starting all over again, and doing everything the same. In monotony I finally found peace. Then I woke up. The crushing weight of reality on my eyelids, as I wrench myself from the dark. The worst thing about me is that I’m afraid to open my eyes again, to look up at the dark side of the moon, shining judgement down on me. I thought only Jesus could judge what was right or wrong, but this proved me “wrong”. Everything in my life had led to this point. It was the most important moment in all my time. I finally did it – I took a deep breath and forgave myself for the choices I made whilst just trying to please others. I should have just prioritised myself, it seems like everyone else does. I can’t be like everyone else – or do I risk becoming a shadow of my former self. Oh, how I miss how I blossomed in the sunshine. Now I wither as the Seasonal Affective Disorder gets to me. I should get a lamp. Something to light the way, from the darkness of which I crawled.”
There were nine muses in ancient Greek mythology. Daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, they were the divine inspiration behind human artistic and scientific endeavour. Calliope is probably the most well known, she is the muse responsible for inspiring heroic/epic poetry. Erato is the inspiration behind love poetry.
Because I love art, a couple of years ago, I promised myself I would do some form of art every day. Whether it be a few lines of poetry or prose, a sketch, doodle or a painting – or even taking a photograph. I think I do two types of art – conscious and unconscious.
When I consciously do something, I think about what it is I want to paint, how I want to paint it, materials, medium, etc. And I have an image in my mind’s eye about what I want to achieve. Invariably, I am slightly disappointed with the finished piece because it never lives up to the ambition of my imagination. The enjoyment was in doing it in the first place.
The second type is my unconscious art. I pick up whatever is at hand and just express myself without thinking about it. Whether it be in words or brushstrokes. I tend to get more satisfaction out of this kind of work because I don’t have any preconceived standard I was hoping to meet in my mind.
And it is this work that I sometimes question whether it is actually ‘me’ who is doing it. Or, rather my unconscious connection to the rest of the energy of the universe that my own sub-atomic particles are inextricably linked with. My Divine Muses, if you like. I am merely a conduit to put the marks on paper, canvas, or pizza box lid. (My muses do like a lot of pizza.)
Yeah, I’m aware that all sounds a bit pretentious and hippy-trippy, but you can’t escape the fact that our subconscious selves have an awful lot to say if you only let them speak.
Anyhoo, here’s what the muses wanted me to say recently…
I am very passionate about the act of ‘doing’ art being the most important aspect of it, rather than the end result. I see the benefits of this in patients with mental illness all the time. Yes, it can be insightful, but it doesn’t have to be. It can just be mindful, cathartic, meditative, expressive. And most importantly, you don’t have to be good at art to do it – it’s about the process, not the result.
Because, when you open yourself up and let the muses in – be they divine, subconscious, or Earthly, that’s when you really feel the joy of doing art.
What Blackout Poetry actually is, versus what I think it is, could be two completely different things. I could Google a definition of it, but I can’t be arsed.
My interpretation of Blackout Poetry is where you take an original piece of text, then ‘black out’ the majority of the text to create a new piece of text. Kind of like what Mi6 does to official government documents.
I reckon folks got a bit bored of doing this after a while, so they started adding colour and doodling around the highlighted text to add a bit of spice to it.
As you’ve probably noticed by now, the original source material for my Blackout Poetry is a Harry Potter novel by J.K. Rowling. Now, before J.K. fans become apoplectic with rage for desecrating one of her sacred tomes, in my defence, the edition I had was damaged beyond use. (I.E. Some of the pages were waterlogged and were illegible.) Plus we had another copy.
As we all know, books are only meant to be read. Unless it’s a colouring book. In which case, you can, well… colour it in. Or a sketchbook. You can’t really read that either. Or a photography book… Look, the point is, I don’t advocate destroying perfectly readable books for the sake of art. Unless, of course, it was written by Piers Morgan.
The text you leave highlighted – or legible, doesn’t have to make sense if you don’t want it to. The point of this exercise is to practise a bit of mindfulness.
Just pull out a few words that speak to you then doodle around them. You can use felt tips, pencil crayons, watercolours, pastels, collage, acrylics, whatever you like.
You can do abstract shapes, geometric patterns or something more illustrative and representative.
Obviously, actually composing a compelling piece of blackout poetry out of existing text can be quite challenging, but that’s not really the purpose of this exercise. This is to lose yourself in the act of creating something new and different out of something that already exists. A creative springboard if you like.
The original text doesn’t have to be from a book either. You can use a newspaper or magazine. Or your granny’s will. Whatever’s handy.
I’ve done this mindulness exercise with patients at the hospital, adult art groups and children alike.
And remember, don’t worry about the end result, it’s the act of doing that’s important. Losing yourself in the process is the objective.
Now get out there and start ripping up your mam’s latest thriller.