To launch a new collection of poetry about Salisbury Hospital’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Oscar-winning actress, and patron of The Stars Appeal, Olivia Colman, has read two of the newly commissioned poems. The Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust collection of poems – My Name is Mercy – is inspired by some of the hospital staff’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Olivia Colman reads the poem Fifth Season that is based on a patient’s true story and Nightshift, which has recently been chosen by Poetry Archive Now as one of the poems of 2021. The poem Ridge Line, read by the poet Martin Figura, reflects on the very personal experiences of one staff member, Lizzie Swift, and her horse Drum.
The Trust commissioned award-winning poet Martin Figura in March of this year to interview staff from across the Trust, exploring how it felt to be at the frontline of the pandemic response. This has resulted in an emotional collection of poems, titled My Name is Mercy, also the title of a poem based on one of the series of reports that BBC’s Mark Urban produced for the Newsnight programme.
The book’s cover is of Nurse Priyanka Sharma, who appeared in the BBC Newsnight programme, and was photographed by a former Salisbury Hospital staff member, Monaya Abel.
The life and work of staff in an out of the hospital form the subject matter of the poems, including experiencing Salisbury during lockdown and using horse riding to help cope with the stress and mental challenges of the pandemic, and the poet’s own experience undertaking this project.
The 30 poems formed the basis of the Trust’s ‘Reflections on the Pandemic’ project, which included sharing the poems internally and on social media, as well as at staff events and at a special music and poetry night at Brown Street. Martin Figura also led workshops where staff and groups such as Wiltshire Creative’s ‘Mind the Gap’ group for seniors and drama students at Wiltshire College could explore writing about their own experiences of the pandemic in Salisbury.
Stacey Hunter, CEO of Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust said: “We all truly have been through an experience like no other in the history of the NHS. The emotional and inspiring poems in ‘My Name is Mercy’ capture the psychological challenges that our staff faced in working through the pandemic and coping as best they could at work and in their personal lives. Martin Figura’s poems resonate with our staff and provide a testament to their resilience.”
David Stratton, Chair of League of Friends, who funded the project, said; “I am very impressed. Some poems are really moving, others insightful and others quite haunting. For those of us who have marvelled at the depth of care that the NHS has given to so many, this anthology gives a glimpse of what life and death is like behind the headlines. The Salisbury Hospital League of Friends has been really pleased and proud to be part of this important work.”
Martin Figura said: “Thank you to everyone who made this project happen. I am especially grateful to those who gave me their time to be interviewed. The lasting impact of the pandemic on their lives was palpable and deeply affecting. I hope the poems go some way towards honouring the experiences and sacrifice of the staff, those they cared for and their loved ones.”
The Reflections project was made possible with funding from the League of Friends and The Stars Appeal.
The collection is available to purchase from Salisbury Cathedral Shop and if already visiting the hospital the collection is also on sale at the League of Friends shop at the Main Entrance and to order online at https://fairacrepress.co.uk/shop/by-martin-figura/.
The Fifth Season
Austria’s ball season is sometimes called the ‘fifth season’. In memory of Tony, who passed away on the 20th December 2020, with his wife Gwen at his side. Lovers and dancers to the last.
There are days such as this
where the light finds a way
to promise a doctor a wish
and for this cold white ward
for one afternoon to masquerade
as a ballroom in dazzling Vienna
and for us all to be beneath chandeliers
in tailcoats or pearls and tiaras
and in all this splendour from an app
on a phone an orchestra conjures
the beautiful blue of the Danube
for the most elegant of couples
to drift quietly there hand in hand
for a precious few hours, reminiscing
the courtship they waltzed at the end
of the war. Their romance never waned
never once missed a step in all of those years.
She whispers so softly
farewell for now my darling:
I love you
I love you
I love you
In the blue orbit
of a night shift
I glimpse myself
beyond the window
untethered, an astronaut
adrift from my craft
in the bleary otherness
of particles and dust.
If I could reach
through light years
and touch my blue-gloved hand
in the refracted constellation
of flickering monitors,
if I could be heard above
their vital signs
and respiratory hum,
I would ask me
if the earth is still
as beautiful as they say
The Ridge Line
A Bay Dutch Warmblood of over seventeen hands,
a mighty horse, a cherished childhood dream.
Lizzie whispers Drum Drum and he pricks his ears.
They have trust in each other, intuitive and physical.
He loves the reach of the grooming brush working
against the broad combe of his back. He doesn’t envy
her, her arms, nor her his four strong legs and mane.
The yard is sharp with impatient clattering and shovel
scrapes. When the river mist softens with the sun
and shadows begin their slow easterly creep back
to themselves, Drum has her. Lizzie is strong, knows
there is still unearthed treasure and blame to be
a useless burdensome beast. He easily forgives
her occasional melancholy, carries her way above
the hollows of the valley.
The trees acknowledge
in birdsong their trace of breath as they hack
along the ridge line. Lizzie sees this last year to be
just one of the thousands spelt out across the chalk marked Vale and Downs in circled stones,
barrows and flint. The hospital watches over its cathedral city,
her own self a speck at a cottage gate,
watching her love
walk to the bluebell woods, a penny whistle in her pocket,
the light rising from her, like a flame.