Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Poetry in the Waiting Room

Poetry has an image of an esoteric, hard to fathom, academic artistic form and, apart from the Poetry on the Dart project, the general public have to go looking for it rather than come across poetry in day to day life. Inspired by the many public pieces of sculpture across the country, this project is designed to bring poetry back into public spaces, introducing it to new audiences and encouraging awareness and interest in all parts of the community.

The idea is to develop a poetry leaflet for waiting rooms - doctors and dentists, hospitals, hairdressers, council offices, day centres, social welfare offices, NCT centres, anywhere the public has to wait. The waiting room is the one place that at some point, everyone has to pause. It is a room full of strangers that levels us and where we have a chance to reflect. Poetry can help humanise these impersonal places. And hopefully, some people will take away something more than a brief relief to the boredom or worry of the wait. They will take away a newly awakened appreciation of poetry.

A similar project in the UK has been supplying free poetry cards for years to non-literary institutions including hospitals, medical centres, doctors surgeries, homeopathy centres, citizen’s advice bureaus and prisons. They currently supply up to 25,000 free leaflets each quarter. Research found the scheme had established strong appeal throughout the whole range of social groupings, including strong representation in disadvantaged areas. A knock on effect was the positive impact of the poetry on the staff working in the offices.

The UK based project did have some penetration into Ireland including The National Children’s hospital in Tallaght, Mid Western Regional Hospital Radio and some doctor’s surgeries but this was dropped when the Arts Council of England funding was cut.

The poetry is carefully chosen firstly to be accessible. Many people complain of being put off poetry since school so experimental or demanding poetry would not work well in this context. It must also be sensitive to the possible feelings of people in a waiting room, frustrated, worried, even emotionally disturbed. The poetry should speak to all parts of the community. New poems will be commissioned from poets with a preference for Kildare based writers. This will provide a much needed outlet, payment being on a par with that from Poetry Ireland. This new work will be put alongside older poems, which are familiar to the older generation, poems for children, which are also enjoyed by adults, and poems in translation to include Ireland’s new immigrant communities.

The leaflet is an A4 folded card printed on both sides and holding 6 or 7 poems. The reader may take the card home and then recycle it, leaving it in another waiting room when they have finished with it. The leaflet may also carry a small amount of poetry related advertising. Institutions may laminate a copy for the office so it can be read on both sides.

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