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Books & Literature

Nurse turns to verse to express pandemic woes

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An emergency department nurse has combined his passion for nursing and writing by creating heartfelt poems inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Michael Jenkins has always been enthusiastic about poetry but never focused on writing until the start of the pandemic.

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He felt this was the perfect opportunity to capture the emotions of not only the nursing staff but everyone involved in the NHS.

Writing poetry also acted as a coping mechanism for Michael to get through what has been one of the toughest times in the history of the NHS.

His first poem, Give me a Break!, was shared on his Facebook page, as well as a Covid support group, where he received rave reviews and an unprecedented amount of appreciation which came as a surprise to him.

“The more poems I started to write, the more attention and shares on social media I was receiving,” Michael said.

Rebecca Price, Emergency Department matron at Morriston Hospital, in Swansea, added: “Michael really does know how to dig deep into NHS staff’s hearts and reveal their true emotions in such a pressurised environment in what has been the toughest couple of years in the history of the NHS.”

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After 18 months of concentrating on the pandemic, Michael turned his attention to other subjects within nursing, in particular by writing a poem about living with dementia.

He added: “We have so many patients coming through the ED doors with dementia but with other conditions to treat.

“It can be very difficult for trained nurses to deal with patients who unfortunately suffer with the terrible illness of dementia.”

Michael’s poem about living with dementia was shared so widely on social media that it even caught the attention of the national charity Dementia UK.

The charity was so impressed it asked Michael if it could rebrand and share the poem on its social media platforms. It has since received a huge amount of praise and shares.

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Dementia UK said: “Michael’s poem has really resonated with all people involved with dementia and has been enjoyed so much.

“We are very appreciative he has taken the time to write such a beautiful poem.”

Several of the poems have since been displayed in ED to be read and enjoyed by members of staff, as well as patients.

Michael hopes the poems can provide a boost where needed and spread some positivity.

Below are two of the poems for your enjoyment.

Give Me A Break!

Patients laugh and patients cry
Patients live, some patients die
Staff will help, Staff will care
Staff with yelp, Staff will ware

Taking its toll on every single person
Reliving the day that’s for certain
Locked down, feeling trapped with no location
Nowhere to go but work and save the population

I never signed up for this’ I read
But we can’t say that or else they’d be dead
But please just give me some space
I’m also a part of this human race

I’ll moan, I’ll cry, I’ll scream and shout
But I know I’ll carry on without a doubt
Do we want some gratitude?
Or do we need a better attitude?

I don’t know I just want some time
Is that to be such a crime?
I’ve paid my fee to work my vocation
What’s that all about?

I’ll still head off without any hesitation
But please I pray to God for goodness sake
All I’m asking for….is give me a break!

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Living with Dementia

I got told I had dementia today,
But that’s fine I’m still me!
The same old person that you sit with
To drink a hot cup of tea.

I may not remember every last detail,
Or recognise your face.
But I will sure try to imagine,
Taking me back to my favourite place.

I may get confused and anxious,
And wander round my house.
I know I shouldn’t dwell on the past,
But I really miss my spouse.

Sometimes my mind is somewhere else,
Like on holidays from years ago.
Or dreaming of better times I’ve had,
Now I must learn to go with the flow.

I am still the same human being,
With a brain inside my head
It just takes a while to think of things,
Like when should I go to bed?

Please don’t judge my shouting,
Or if I somehow make you scared
It’s just my mind playing tricks on me,
Maybe I just need to be fed!

Some company is all I need
To play my favourite game,
Then maybe next time I see you,
I will remember your lovely name.

Now I will always cherish the memories,
Of all the times we share,
Please don’t stop coming to visit,
As I know you will always care.

I am still the same old person,
Just get a little jumbled up,
Now go get me that hot cuppa,
So I can sip from my favourite cup.

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Books & Literature

Museum, Archive, and Library staff in Wales offered LGBTQ+ training

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A new initiative is being launched in Wales to help local museums, archives and libraries showcase, share and celebrate local LGBTQ+ history and culture in their collections, Welsh Government ministers have announced today.

The Welsh Government is funding a series of LGBTQ+ Language and History training sessions to support organisations in Wales to be more inclusive and better represent LGBTQ+ heritage and literature in their collections.

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The new initiative supports the Welsh Government’s LGBTQ+ Action Plan which sets out plans to tackle inequalities experienced by LGBTQ+ communities, challenge discrimination and create a society where LGBTQ+ people are safe to live and love.

Prominent Welsh Historian and author Norena Shopland and Equity Educator and founder of Pride in Education Laila El-Metoui have designed and are delivering five interactive bespoke sessions to equip staff with the skills and knowledge necessary that will enable a greater visibility of often hidden or undiscovered LGBTQ+ heritage.

The training will provide effective learning points and practical tools to enable staff to move forward with a fully inclusive, truly representative programme.

Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Dawn Bowden said: “We want to do all we can to ensure our local museums, libraries and archives work with our LGBTQ+ communities in Wales to showcase, share and celebrate their history and stories.

“There are some wonderful examples of these organisations working with LGBTQ+ communities – like Llandudno Museum and Glamorgan Archives – but we are keen to ensure local venues across the country are more representative of the community in their collections, resources, events and exhibition programmes. This new initiative we’re announcing today is the start of that process.”

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Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn said: “The society we have today and the progress we have made is all built on the hope and determination of so many before us. Wales’ LGBTQ+ history has contributed so much to our stories as a nation and I am so pleased that these stories will have this new opportunity to be told.

“We’re working to make Wales the most LGBTQ+ friendly nation in Europe. This announcement today marks another step towards achieving that.”

Norena Shopland said: “Over the last ten years the showcasing of sexual orientation and gender identity history (often referred to as LGBTQ+ history) has greatly increased. However, this increase tends to be driven by a small number of individuals and organisations. A lack of familiarity with the subject; little understanding of historic language use, application and recognition; fear of causing offence; and LGBTQ+ people rarely visiting local museums or archives, are some of the main reasons causing difficulties in researching, recognising, and promoting LGBTQ+ history.”

Laila El-Metoui said: “Too many organisations still live in the shadow of Section 28 and it is of the utmost importance that LGBTIQA+ heritage is showcased and celebrated, knowing our past helps us understand our present and will inform our future. You cannot be what you cannot see, it’s time to bring hidden stories to the light. We are grateful to the Welsh Government for being a driving force behind Queer Heritage representation.”

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Mental health nurses’ pandemic experiences used as muse for poems

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Three mental health nurses from Cefn Coed Hospital have turned to poetry to process their emotions of working through the pandemic.

Maria Anderton, Dawn Griffin and Deborah Morgan collaborated with Pembrokeshire-based writer Kerry Steed to create a collection of poems which communicates their experiences over the past 18 months.

The collection, The Close Language of Distance, is part of a project called Unlocking the Poetry: Sharing the Story, which aims to work with NHS Wales staff to articulate how Covid-19 has impacted upon them.

Prue Thimbleby and Sarah Goodey, arts coordinators from Swansea Bay and Aneurin Bevan university health boards respectively, offered guidance and support.

The nurses met Kerry via a video call to discuss their trials and tribulations before the poet transcribed their conversations and worked their words into what was described by Dawn as ‘the most beautiful collection of poems’.

Dawn (right), Swansea Bay University Health Board’s Directorate Manager for OPMHS, said: “I had to hold it together reading them because I was so emotional.

“We are so thrilled with the outcome. Kerry took so much from it, and turned something that was really challenging and emotional into something quite heart-warming and beautiful.

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“I have shared the collection with family.  I am thrilled they can gain a sense of what I’ve experienced from the poetry.

“I was so worried in every aspect of my personal and work life, and wouldn’t show it.  So for others to read this, they were really touched by the poems.

“Going through something like the pandemic, we didn’t take a minute to step back and think about it. This opportunity has given us the chance to reflect and learn from it as well.” 

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Maria, Head of Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Nursing, was also impressed.

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She said: “When Kerry sent us the completed poetry, it absolutely blew us away. I get hairs on the back of my neck when I think about it. When I first read the poems I cried, it was just so powerful. I thought, ‘look at that, hear that, that’s what we went through’.”

As the pandemic intensified, Maria, who usually works in a management role, changed back into her scrubs and PPE and joined her colleagues on the wards, delivering clinical care rather than working from home.

She said: “For me, it was absolutely the right thing to do morally. You know we were all so scared. I had a family to go home to, the others had families to go home to. So it was a massively conflicting time.”

Her decision paid off as she felt part of a tight team.

“We rose to the challenge, with lots of support from the team and the community. We went from feeling like we were in the middle of the eye of the storm, and we were just floundering, to feeling like we had this whole team around us that allowed us to feel much stronger.”

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Deborah, Derwen Ward Manager, expressed her love for one poem in particular as she felt strongly about her perceived lack of attention and support for the mental health hospitals during the pandemic.

She said: “I’d love to share the poetry, especially the one titled ‘For the Forgotten Hospitals, I am speaking’, because I feel very strongly that as mental health hospitals we are always forgotten. We are never mentioned in the media. They thought Covid wouldn’t hit the mental health wards for some reason.”

Deborah admitted a need for psychological input during the pandemic, as she felt angry and began to experience nightmares following the loss of people’s loved ones that she had nursed for a long time.

She said: “When I went to put it into words I didn’t feel so angry. Feelings came differently, so when it came to talking to Kerry I could look at the whole situation in a more positive light instead of that anger.

“When I read the poetry it just took me back to that place. But I just think it was because everything that I locked away again had come flooding back. But actually, the more that I read the poetry and understood it, the better I felt.

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“I’d I just like to thank Kerry a lot, because the way she captured it took my anger away. It made me look at it more, it really made me look at things and made me realise what we have achieved.

“I don’t think people realise that with mental health there isn’t an open wound or something that you can heal or something you can operate on. People don’t understand the real challenges that you have, so I think it’s important to talk about it.”

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Kerry (pictured right: photo credit Cara Gaskell) firmly believes writing can be beneficial for mindfulness, creativity and general wellbeing.

She said: “I think it’s vital that anyone who’s been working intensely through the pandemic has an opportunity to process that experience and to mark it, to give voice to it. I offered out the project by way of enabling that.

“During the hour we spent together they were listening to each other, sharing story and acknowledging the emotions that they had felt as they were going through Covid, emotions which perhaps hadn’t been acknowledged between the three of them before.”

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Poems


The Lioness

Lioness, I had the pleasure
of working alongside you.

I remember your strength, Lioness,
such strength.

And how it was so tough, so challenging
internally panicking while showing
that leading lioness face,
while supporting, pulling everyone together.

Remember, Lioness, your strength in relation.
And the normally mundane things,
the time spent on those things,
they didn’t matter.
We mattered,
Lioness, we mattered.
We that were doing it,
the people we were doing it for.

How frightened we really were
to keep people alive, frightened
to save them.

You remember, Lioness, how we felt?
Frightened, but such bravery
amongst that, such strength.

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You’re strength, Lioness, you’re superhuman strength,
fighting to save people.

Be proud of that, be proud.

Lioness, I had the pleasure
of working alongside you
and remember, I say,
remember, Lioness, how you mattered.

We’ve Got This
The respect for each other totally changed, we showed respect, more care for each other. I think maybe it’s always been there, but when you’re working with people everyday, well, you don’t really see it, until you get something like this.

Something like this and you realise
how important the person next to you is,

and the things you all share,
the thoughts,
the feelings,
like on a night shift when you’ll share anything;

nurses and senior management all sharing
on the same level, and the work
is everybody’s.

And the community sharing spirit,
the donations, the food.

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How heartwarming, how humbling
how people are sharing,

even when they’re not there
you sense community.

And you realise how important
the person next to you is
and the next
and the next
and the next,

and how much you care,
and that’s when you know,
we’re doing it together,
we’ll get through this together,

and that’s when you know,
we’ve got this.

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Swansea-born writer wins Rhys Davies short story competition

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Naomi Paulus has won the 2021 Rhys Davies Short Story Competition for her story Take a Bite, a “delightful, wistful, satisfying piece” in which a young woman, Rhian, returns home to the voices and rituals of her mother and aunts for an important family event.

The competition recognises the very best unpublished short stories in English in any style and on any subject up to a maximum of 5,000 words by writers aged 18 or over who were born in Wales, have lived in Wales for two years or more, or are currently living in Wales.

Originally established in 1991, there have been eight Rhys Davies Short Story contests to date, and the 2021 competition has been relaunched by Swansea University’s Cultural Institute on behalf of The Rhys Davies Trust and in association with Parthian Books.

Paulus wins £1,000 and has her winning entry featured in the Rhys Davies Short Story Award Anthology 2021, which is published by Parthian next month. The stories from the other 11 finalists will also feature in the anthology and they receive £100.

Commenting on Take a Bite, guest judge Julia Bell said: “This story was a winner from the moment I read it. A delightful, wistful, satisfying piece which echoes some of the best of Rhys Davies, for a few pages giving us a window into a world which is both tender and profound. I extend Naomi Paulus many congratulations and look forward to reading whatever she produces next.”

Naomi was born, and had most of her formative experiences, in Swansea. She graduated with a degree in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge and began writing shortly after turning 30. Since then, she has been longlisted for the Primadonna Prize three times and won their 2020 flash fiction competition. Alongside her writing, she also runs a digital agency in London.

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On receiving the award, Naomi Paulus said: “Growing up, I loved listening to my grandmother tell stories about her sisters. I can’t describe how thrilled I am that my story inspired by them has won this prize. It means an incredible amount to me to have the recognition of Julia Bell and to follow in the footsteps of talented Welsh writers under the revered name of Rhys Davies. I’m completely overjoyed and immeasurably proud to continue in the important tradition of Welsh storytelling.”

The official launch of Take a Bite: The Rhys Davies Short Story Award Anthology will be held online on 30 September between 7pm-8pm. The launch will feature guest judge Julia Bell, editor Elaine Canning, and readings from the 2021 winner and finalists.

Born in Blaenclydach in the Rhondda in 1901, Rhys Davies was among the most dedicated, prolific, and accomplished of Welsh prose-writers in English. He wrote, in all, more than 100 stories, 20 novels, three novellas, two topographical books about Wales, two plays, and an autobiography.

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