The East Midlands Centre for Forensic Health, Arnold Lodge, was keen for a poet to work with them in furthering creative and expressive activities offered to patients (not as a form of therapy).
Mahendra Solanki is Director of a Master's program in Writing at Nottingham Trent University in England. His first collection of poems, Shadows of my Making, was published in 1986; his most recent book is Six of One and Half a Dozen of the Other.
Mahendra Solanki, our Poet in residence, has now been at Arnold Lodge for four of his fifteen days' residency, funded under The Poetry Society's "Poetry Places" scheme. A multidisciplinary group of managers and staff was unanimous, after initial discussion with Mahendra, that his experience, understanding and enthusiasm would enable him to make a valuable contribution to patients' writing and reading of poetry.
Following an introductory day to the Unit, when Mahendra met with patients, managers and staff he has facilitated four days of sessions of creative writing, mainly of poetry. Some of these sessions have also included brief consideration of published poems. Mahendra has enabled patients to appreciate the strengths and positive features of their writing. Where appropriate, he has also offered advice and suggested exercises, to facilitate and develop patients' work. Some patients have produced poems during or following a session.
16 individuals (about a third of all patients) have attended at least one session with Mahendra. Sessions are accessible and available on each ward for all patients in the Unit, whether or not they have previously had an interest in poetry, and bearing in mind some people's adverse experiences of "English Literature" at school. Patients usually have a choice of individual or group sessions.
During Mahendra's annual leave (between the 9th and 20th August) patients also had a choice, with the agreement of Mahendra and staff, to continue to meet with a member of Education and Quality Department staff who has an interest in creative writing. A few patients have taken up this option. In addition to his work with patients, Mahendra has invited a few staff members to show him their poems.
A multi-disciplinary team is continuing to liase with Mahendra. Jan Newton, Senior Art Therapist, is providing supervision, as required. Fiona Page, Senior Occupational Therapist, Bill Carpenter, Social and Recreational Officer and Richard Byrt, Research Nurse are available for informal support and to provide escorts for sessions, if necessary.
Further work will depend largely on patients' needs and wishes. Mahendra is available for longer-term work with patients who would like this, in relation to the writing of poetry, including song lyrics. (Four patients have expressed an interest in the latter.) An anthology of poems and songs by patients may be produced, within Arnold Lodge, if they would like this.
After Mahendra' s residency has ended, the availability of staff to continue with creative writing and reading sessions will be considered.