“You had me at ‘haiku’” – why so many people wrote haikus for the NHS

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When we first launched our inaugural poetry project, ‘Haikus for the NHS’, we couldn’t have predicted the incredible response we received. With over 200 haiku submissions from poets and writers across the world, the team here at Nothing in the Rulebook were, quite simply, blown away by the support and eagerness of fellow creatives to get involved.

Our competition winner, John Blackmore, spoke movingly about how he “found the poetry project and felt literally moved to write.”

So what exactly was it that moved so many people to contribute their haikus in support of this project?

We spoke to dozens of those poets who made our short-and long-lists (read their haikus online here) to find out. Their responses are published here below:

Shortlisted poet Sarah Purvis was moved by the power of protest poetry to inspire others to action:

“I chose to submit a haiku to be used to support this campaign because I believe that effective protest poetry is a powerful way to ignite emotion and create a lasting imprint on the human conscience. I believe that our NHS is invaluable and have witnessed first hand the dedication, passion and kindness that NHS staff innately possess, through various hospital stays and care provided for myself and my family. Our NHS reflects the values of our society as it supports inclusion and compassion. The conservative government continues to eradicate all that is ‘human’ in society, casting an impersonal blanket of privatisation, which continues to suffocate our NHS. I wanted to show my support for the NHS in a very human, subjective way; a way in which we can all freely express the essence of important issues – through creativity.”

Many poets, including Katie Bell, Joan Barker and Charlie Rowland, spoke about their personal experiences of using the UK’s National Health Service and the importance for all of us to support it through any means necessary.

“I entered the Haikus for the NHS poetry project mainly due to the fact I rely heavily on the NHS – I have marfan syndrome and scoliosis, which meant I had to undergo numerous cases of major surgery. Without the NHS’ support, I would’ve been unable to afford the surgery. It really shocks me how the system is failing, and I hope the haikus everyone submitted help the NHS start to try their best to reform and survive.” – Katie Bell

“I recently started taking part in a Monthly Creative Writing Competition being run by my mobile phone provider.

I would see the title of that month’s competition and within a few days my work was thought out, sketched out, fleshed out and then finally sent out with a sense of achievement (and not a little excitement that it might win).

Then my husband was diagnosed with cancer and my time and energy was focused on him and our interaction with the NHS.

I found that the choice of topics for the competition no longer inspired me and I stopped submitting an entry.

It  was with a wonderful sense of irony therefore that, when I found out about your competition I was immediately enthused and the words came without any effort.

The end result succinctly summed up what I feel about the people who are looking after my husband and the knowledge that we are all responsible for keeping them safe; not just physically but as part of an essential organisation.

Is there a point to “Poetry as Protest”?

Poems themselves may not cause change to happen but their creation may encourage others to action.

They can also alert those who are part of the change-making process that people are aware of what is going on. They can never say that didn’t know how people felt and that they did what they did because no one cared.

I would say that anything that can affect others on an emotional level has to make a difference.” – Joan Barker

“I wanted to submit to this particular project, probably for the same reason that a lot of people strongly about the NHS.

They have helped my family countless times without ever wanting thanks. They provided palliative care for my Grandma in her final days; they nursed my son back to health when he had pneumonia. My mum was also a Nurse when I was young, so the NHS was part of our household income.

Let’s not forget the families on the other side of the care workers lives who rely on the NHS for their income. Funding cuts will dramatically effect their financial security and cause stress and worry. We have a right to say we’re not happy about the Government’s decisions especially as it effects millions of people lives.” – Charlie Rowland.

For others, such as Karen Rodgers, Robert Holtom and Sean Smith, the NHS is a vital part of society, and hugely symbolic of the power of political ideals that have been systematically attacked and undermined by the incumbent Conservative Government. And, as such, they felt moved to use any form of resistance – including poetry – to protest these devastating and ideological tory policies to help save the NHS.

“I entered the NHS Haiku competition because I feel strongly about how important the health service is to the community. I think good health can be taken for granted, sometimes, but when you’re sick the health service is there to help and support people and their families, hopefully, back to good health. Being sick is stressful enough, without the worry of financial issues. Doctors and nurses should be celebrated for their caring and professional manners. Writing expresses feelings and thoughts, and is such a powerful tool.” – Karen Rodgers

“Hundreds of nurses with patients on beds flooded the stadium, a giant Queen of Hearts was there and lots of Mary Poppins flying about by umbrella. As the dance unfolded the beds were pushed together and lights were lit to spell the ‘NHS’ – it was epic. That was part of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics and I can still picture it now. Given the government was already imposing austerity and cutting our public health services it was also a moment of beautiful protest. The NHS is testimony to what can be achieved when people come together to improve all the nation’s health and well-being. And it must be free at the point of delivery to ensure it transcends our abysmal class system and the inequality it creates. We can’t give up on the NHS and whether it’s a display of Olympian proportions or the three lines of a Haiku we must keep celebrating and defending it.” – Robert Holtom

“I live in Ireland but was born in Manchester so experienced the NHS at first hand in 1962. My Mum also worked as a nurse so had a direct input into the NHS at the time. I believe the NHS to be one of the most important progressive pieces of social legislation in the twentieth century. The thought that governments in Westminster have spent the last twenty or so years trying to dismantle the NHS is extremely worrying. Having experienced the Irish health system, I know that allowing a small sector of business people to turn public health into profit is a recipe for disaster and will have a direct negative effect on the most vulnerable people in society. If poetry can be used to bring attention, consideration and protest to this impending debacle then it serves a very worthwhile purpose. Long live the NHS!” – Sean Smith

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Photo credit: Ed Lederman/PEN America

And other creative comrades were inspired by the power of poetry – and the arts in general – to facilitate change and serve as tools of protest:

“I work for a charity with strong links to healthcare and am very angry about the number of privatised services in my city – it’s happening very much under the radar and it’s frontline services- those which should be responsive to patients not beholden to shareholders. I also love poetry and a challenge – a triple whammy- although to be honest, you had me at ‘haiku’!” – Andrea Mbarushimana

“I believe the arts in general are a powerful protest tool, whether that be through film, theatre, photography, painting, prose or poetry. I think the way NITRB is planning to disseminate the poetry is an effective way to show our support for the NHS and make various salient points to the government. (Some would even make great placards.) I have always been passionate about the NHS, it is our civil right to have a fully effective and free health service regardless of income. It is perhaps the greatest institution to have ever been introduced to Britain not just for the health benefits, but for social equality, too.” – David Milligan-Croft

“I always believe in the power of poetry, and to me good poetry is like a national healthcare service that should be available to all. Ah, a person without healthcare is like a poet without a poem.” – Ernesto P. Santiago

“As a young man growing up in Cardiff, I came upon a statue of Aneurin Bevan.  I remember feeling immensely proud that a welshman had come up with the idea of a socially inclusive and nationally supportive idea, that is the NHS.  At its inception in 1948, Bevan, the then Labour Health Minister, famously said; ‘The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the fate to fight for it ’ – That is precisely why I am compelled and proud to add my voice to this campaign.

A little over a year ago, I stumbled on a book of Haiku poetry, in a wonderful little bookshop in Bath.  I fell for this very poignant style of sketching out a thought or idea, in a naturally free and impulsive style.  Ever since, Haiku has provided me with the opportunity to take a creative time-out moment.  It allows for me to capture a feeling or moment in words, in much the same way a photograph can capture a visual image.

As we have seen, from the popular idea that the Haikus for the NHS project has presented; a few carefully chosen words, committed to a single idea, can have a profoundly powerful and emotional impact. Words can and do make a difference.” – Michael Gerard

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And we also heard stories from Maureen Miller and Courtney Lesa Minto that provided us with two international perspectives on how both the NHS, and the idea of using haiku as a medium of creative protest, literally transcended international and geographical borders, spanning oceans and cultures:

“Like most Yanks, I was introduced to the National Health by a Beatles lyric. Not that pop lyrics are poetry, but they help you to understand when you’re being stopped from doing everything you can. My workplace, one of the largest government hospitals in the US, pops songs without lyrics in the halls between the new and old buildings at all hours. Lost patients and doctors walk it dazed and out of step, their back-and-forths through the additions fighting death Muzak from above. It’s poetic, by which I mean tragic, romantic and tragic, maybe recognizable. That’s the vibe I got from British junior doctors in the London Review of Books, anyway, and they have a bang-up poetry section, plus their payroll gave this editor I know insurance for eyeglasses he couldn’t get here. My brother, paraphrasing Shelley, once made fun of people who need poetry to protest by saying his eighth grade English students were the unacknowledged legislators of the world. He meant that children already knew what Shelley meant without having read him. The same is true of doctors who see everyday with those specs that universal health care works. If saving the NHS requires a schoolchildren’s scrum, so be it. Get in it. The people in charge need to be knocked into some sense from the adults in the room.” – Maureen Miller

“I may not be a UK resident, however across the 16,000 kilometres between us, I stand with the poetry for protest movement and I stand with the National Health Service.

Upon learning of the ‘Winter Crisis’ and the planned March movement, paired with [Nothing in the Rulebook’s] planned poetry for protest distribution, both the movement and the heart of the NHS captivated my support.

To protest with such a loud silence… to give the most silent and meditative form of poetry the power to communicate volumes to the hearts and ears of a crowd… it leaves one beyond words.

I think that the way people protest says a lot about who they are protesting for, and so I felt compelled to write and submit my haiku on behalf of the hearts across the world who stand with the NHS.

I may be only one seventeen year old Australian girl, however I stand proudly for the hearts outside of UK borders who have been touched in some way or another, be it family members or friends or simply admiration, by the health of the NHS.

The National Health Service and all of the life saving doctors and nurses and all in between who have suffered from funding cuts and staff salary reductions, have international support.

I stand and write, beyond her borders, in support for the NHS.” – Courtney Lesa Minto, Australia

What so many of these moving and inspiring comments prove is poetry’s ability to produce a visceral effect that can inspirit, inspire, and transform those who read and hear it. And it is this that makes poetry such a powerful tool for speaking out against the wrongs of the day – for channelling the universal human feelings of every man and every woman into something meaningful and real, into a form of protest and resistance.

 

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Creatives in Profile: Interview with John Blackmore

 

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We’re absolutely thrilled to introduce a special Creatives in Profile interview – with the winner of our inaugural poetry competition, ‘Haikus for the NHS‘.

The project was launched early in 2017 to use the power of poetry as protest – specifically, the power of haikus as protest – in support of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS).

Somerset-based poet and musician John Blackmore was announced as the winner of our competition ahead of the national demonstration to support the NHS on Saturday 4 March.

Blackmore’s poem was chosen from a shortlist of haikus by the poets Eva Reed, Juliet Staveley and Sarah Purvis. You can read his haiku, along with those that made our short- and long-lists online.

A semi-finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk award, and contributor to a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the Victorian Dorset Dialect poet William Barnes, Blackmore is part of the Poetry Society’s ‘Young Poets Network’.

It is an honour to present this detailed interview.

INTERVIEWER

First things first, many congratulations again on winning our ‘Haikus for the NHS’ prize. Could you tell us a little about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle?

BLACKMORE

Thank you very much! Gosh…I don’t know what to say…

I’m 25 years old, and live and work in rural Somerset, which is where I grew up. After university, I returned home to train to teach. I’ve been teaching English in secondary schools for four years and I’m currently head of the departments of English and Drama at the school I attended as a student…if you had told me that ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you!

When I’m not marking, I love singing and playing guitar. I’ve only recently started turning my hand to poetry, but have written songs for years. I was lucky enough to be a semi-finalist for the BBC Young Folk Award in 2011.

My rural upbringing and surroundings are a huge part of who I am; I’m not at home in a city and I don’t think I’ll ever seek to be part of the homogenous masses commuting for a 9-5 job in the metropolis. I don’t know yet whether that makes me strong-minded or foolish! I suppose I strike a pensive, solitary figure living and working in a community which most young people leave, and yes, it can be lonely, but I don’t think I’d be happier anywhere else, and it is a great place from which to write.

INTERVIEWER

What drew you to our poetry project and inspired you to get involved?

BLACKMORE

A couple of things really.

A number of my family members have worked as nurses, including my mum, but I never really had need for a hospital until last summer. In July, just before the summer holiday, I broke my finger during sports day at school. Over the following weeks, I had consultations and x-rays and physio appointments, and despite the discomfort and the inability to drive or play guitar, I found the hospital a fascinating place—like school, really: all life can be found there, a myriad of stories, and the determination of staff to do their best for all in a stressful, challenging environment really caught my attention.

More recently, just before Christmas, I was diagnosed with something more worrying and underwent CAT scans and surgery. It was while I was recovering at home, off work, that I found the poetry project and felt literally moved to write. Even when the NHS is not attacked by politicians and the media, we take healthcare so much for granted. It is not until we are put in a position of personal vulnerability or frailty that we finally take notice and value what we have.

INTERVIEWER

Is poetry and writing – your first love, or do you have another passion?

BLACKMORE

Poetry snuck up on me at primary school. I liked being able to express myself in rhyme—I think all children do—and playing with words. I didn’t enjoy school until my year-two teacher gave me confidence in my writing. For my seventh birthday, my parents bought me the “Children’s Illustrated Book of Verse”, and from then I was hooked! While I have enjoyed writing songs and analysing poems since then, it’s taken me years, decades, to find my own poetic voice. I’m certainly still developing as a writer.

I suppose my other passion would be education. I’m the bossy eldest brother (or so they tell me) to four younger siblings, so I’ve grown up imparting knowledge, sharing ideas and helping others develop skills and confidence. Becoming a teacher was a natural step, and was no great surprise to my friends and family. Helping ignite passion and curiosity within someone else is incredibly powerful, rewarding and addictive.

INTERVIEWER

Who (and what) inspires you?

BLACKMORE

Studying literature at university and now teaching English at a secondary school has given me a fair share of literary heroes. I think place and identity are particularly important to me, perhaps due in part to my Irish, English and Welsh roots, so poets who have captured a landscape or a group of people have often gained my attention. I gravitate to the likes of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge and John Clare, but also the insecurity of Victorians like William Barnes, Christina Rossetti, Hopkins and Tennyson. Twentieth Century poets like Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney have also captivated me, as have those that I’ve gained a new appreciation for through teaching, like Imtiaz Dharker, Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage.

On a day to day basis, though, it’s often the little things that inspire me to write poetry: a funny turn of phrase I’ve overheard, a half-caught smile, an interesting scene that plays out before my eyes. A lot comes down to personal experience, too, and my interactions with people and places. My song-writing draws more on the landscapes of my native west country which I suppose comes from my folk music background.

INTERVIEWER

What, do you think, poetry is for?  And what do you make of ‘poetry as protest’?

BLACKMORE

I think poetry at its heart is a form of communication. While you can be motivated to write an opinion piece or a novel, though, I think you must be moved to write poetry. The transmission of thoughts and emotion in often stringent poetic forms excites me as a reader and writer; distilling words and meanings in such a way that they retain personal resonance, but can still be interpreted in a myriad of ways, is both incredibly cathartic and empowering. It also inspires great empathy and consolation, too.

As a document of a time, place, person, a collective or individual feeling, then, poetry remains unrivalled. It is a medium that demands intimate reflection, forcing a deeply personal response from its readers, and so is a powerful vehicle for social change. To this end, all poetry is protest.

INTERVIEWER

‘Haikus for the NHS’ was primarily launched to support the UK’s National Health Service as it faces one of its greatest crises in decades. How important do you think institutions like the NHS are for our society?

BLACKMORE

I think institutions like the NHS are the corner stone of our society. You can’t wish for more in life than health and happiness, so offering a system of welfare for all, from cradle to grave, was an astonishing achievement born out of the horrors of war and widespread poverty. It is remarkable. Sadly, the foresight of our forefathers has been betrayed by the short-term thinking of successive governments. The sooner health—and education for that matter—are elevated from their current position as political footballs, the better.

INTERVIEWER

On the topic of what is important for society – what role do you think poetry has to play in the UK today?

BLACKMORE

Good question. I think poetry is frequently considered an unconscious voice. In our modern world of sensationalism, fake news and Facebook likes, the most read literature forms—journalism and fiction— must be “in your face”, almost militant and explicit in terms of meaning, which weakens the message it communicates and its quality.

Poetry must be the refuge of self-reflection, the point of quiet questioning, that nagging conscience that remains a touchstone of what really matters in life. It is a form that is underestimated, doubted, but remains ever-faithful: like riding a bicycle, people neglect poetry for years and years, but, at key moments in life: weddings – funerals – birthdays – it is poetry that people turn to for expression that is testament to memory, experience and meaning. If you ask children on the spot whether they like poetry, they look at you as though you’ve asked them whether they like going to the dentist. Nevertheless, with a little help and encouragement, I would say almost every child, and every person, can read a poem and take away meaning, some personal reference or wider understanding. Poetry is, and remains, integral to what it means to be human; it is vital that it continues to be so.

INTERVIEWER

What’s next for you? Could you tell us a little about any future projects you’re working on?

BLACKMORE

I wish I knew! I go through phases of investing time and energy into each of my interests: music, poetry, teaching. I’m just finishing my Master’s degree in Education and I’m looking forward to recording a CD in the coming months, thanks to the William Barnes Society in Dorset. I’m also continuing to write and pursue publication online and in print…when I’m not in the classroom!

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

BLACKMORE

He listened, smiling, remembering once more.

 

Make sure you check out Blackmore’s music on soundcloud and award-winning poetry online. And, to see his haikus for the NHS in action, watch the video below!

 

Haikus for the NHS: watch the video

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On Saturday, 4 March 2017, the team at Nothing in the Rulebook joined almost 250,000 protesters at the demonstration in support of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) in London.

This was a crucial part of the final end-game of our  ‘Haikus for the NHS‘ poetry project, which sought to build on the long-standing tradition of poetry as protest to support the NHS.

You can watch the short film detailing our experience of the day below.

You can also read the winning haiku, along with short- and long-listed entries online.