Writing Poems to make Sense of our Feelings

Since the inception of this website, many of you have described how expressive writing has helped you to understand your thoughts and feelings about nursing practice. Often as nurses, we encounter difficult times, which can make us question whether or not nursing is a profession we want to be part of. However poetry writing can help us to make sense of our how we feel and also promote a sense of empathy for others. Poems can act as ‘containers’ for our feelings which in turn supports us in experiencing these feelings at a more conscious level (Fox, 1995: xv). Being aware of our own emotions helps us to understand those of others in our care.

The following poem was written by one of our first year student nurses following an experience caring for a woman who had experienced a miscarriage. This experience had an emotional impact on our student and she wrote this poem as a way to reflect on her feelings:

The moment I found out you had left me

My heart began to sink,

You had been growing inside of me for months

Now it’s over in a blink.

I feel so all alone now

So empty and rotten inside,

I feel I’ve lost my dignity

I’ve choked upon my pride.

Was it something I did wrong?

Am I the one to blame?

Oh god please tell me

Do I deserve this shame?

How is it possible to love someone,

You have never met before?

Now I’ll never nurture

The one I truly adore.

These feelings of anger and jealousy

Make me feel rather ashamed,

When friends have big happy families

And my baby wasn’t even properly named.

I know you’re up in heaven now

With other angels whose wings were just too small,

I know you’re looking down on me

Ready to catch me when I fall.

 

Reference

Fox J (1995) Finding what you didn’t lose: Expressing your truth and creativity though poem making Jeremy Tarcher: Putnam New York

Dr Kirsten Jack, Senior Lecturer Adult Nursing

August 2016

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Understanding compassion by using poems as qualitative data

Since the development of this website we have received hundreds of your poems exploring important issues in nursing practice. Issues such as communication, caring, compassion and empathy have been explored, using this creative approach. You have also contributed poems about the meaning of nursing, your hopes and fears, based on past and current experiences.

Compassion is an important concept in nursing practice and has gained a lot of attention over recent years. However, its meaning can be confusing and the ways in which we show compassion can be open to discussion. With this in mind, I was delighted to lead on the development of an article, using our students’ poems, as a way to explore the meaning of compassionate care provision.

Earlier this month, Using Poems to Explore the Meaning of Compassion to Undergraduate Nursing Students was published in the International Practice Development Journal, an online publication published by the Foundation of Nursing Studies.

You can read the article here »

This article explores the multiple meanings of compassion as experienced by our students. Compassion was described as a meaningful but often difficult concept. Students often worry that their lack of knowledge and experience can lead to loss of compassion. Some students described compassionate care provision as a very practical process, one which takes into account ‘the small things’ which although might seem small to us, are often so meaningful to service users.

In whatever way we view compassion, it is clear that using poetry supports exploration of this concept. Our students have written some very moving and meaningful poems in this article and we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we have enjoyed writing it.

Dr Kirsten Jack, Senior Lecturer Adult Nursing

Dr Josie Tetley, Professor of Nursing

Thursday 19th May 2016

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Poetry – a trigger for empathetic understanding?

mClancyGuest Post from Marie Clancy, PGCE, MPH, B/Nurs

Senior Lecturer Child Branch Nursing

University of Wolverhampton,

Faculty of Education, Health and Well-being

 

Hi everyone,

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Kirsten Jack in April this year, at the RCN Education Forum Conference and Exhibition – ‘Partners in Practice’, Nottingham, UK. I presented a paper on a recent educational initiative I have been conducting at the University of Wolverhampton. If you are reading this, you might share our passion for using creative methods in teaching and learning, and be interested to hear about my experiences at Wolverhampton.

The aim of my project was to explore the impact of poetry on child branch student nurses at the beginning of their third year critical care module. Prior to the exercise students were asked how they felt about three topics;

    • The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) environment

 

    • The responsibility of the NICU nurse

 

    • Neonatal bereavement.

 
When discussing the alien nature of the equipment in the NICU environment, and the parents’ view of the responsibilities of the NICU nurse, the students appeared on the whole to be knowledgeable, confident, understanding and caring towards families’ needs and fears. However, on the subject of neonatal death and parental bereavement, students were fearful, emotional, and uncertain and felt lacking in the necessary experience. Students worried about how they might communicate with bereaved parents and felt that they might be so upset as to appear ‘unprofessional’

Students reflect on the three topics prior to seeing the poems:

mClanceystudents

 

The poems chosen were written by parents who had experienced NICU and included;

1) ‘As I Love You Through The Glass’ By Elena Murphy (a mother’s experience of the NICU environment)

2) ‘Into Your Hands’ By Alan Van Orman (the responsibility of the NICU nurse)

3) ‘Dark Empty Pit’ By Lynette Marie Stokes (a mothers suffering following neonatal bereavement)

Students were particularly moved by the poem ‘Dark Empty Pit’:

Dark Empty Pit

Lynette Marie Stokes

The alarms go off, strange sights and sounds,

You are so sick, so tiny, so tiny.

I ask the nurse if I can have you in my arms,

But you are too sick, too tiny, too tiny.

They say you won’t live, the odds are against you,

I can’t understand what they say, they don’t even know you.

I weep in my hands, my head hanging low,

How will I possibly ever let you go?

They come in the night to speak of choices,

For one of you is passing, an angel rejoices.

I cannot rejoice, my heart is too sad,

Anger wells up, swells up and I only feel mad!

Just when I thought the path was clear,

It would seem I would shed yet another tear.

Away to heaven you’ve gone, another grave,

Your sister is next and unable to be saved.

Three angels later and I am alone,

No one to love, to rock, or to hug,

The emptiness I feel is too much to bear,

I am a dark empty pit, I no longer care.

The students reported feelings of sadness on reading the poem and it reminded them of the need for a compassionate approach when supporting grieving parents. For some students, the poem provided insight into an experience they had never had, and supported feelings of empathy. The use of a poem as a way of teaching was helpful, due to the multiple meanings found in poetry compared to other media.

Following individual reading of the poems and performing them to each other, the students then reflected on how they felt about the topics and the use of poetry.

mClanceystudents2

Overall, the exercise had helped address some of student’s fears and concerns and worries which had been uncovered during other theory based sessions. Students were very engaged in the poetry sessions and attendance was 100%. After the activities, students felt they had ‘very high’ or ‘high’ levels of;

    • knowledge (72%)

 

    • empathy (84%)

 

    • concern for families (97%)

 
They also made additional comments which were very positive:

“Thought-provoking exercise – really good idea and session”

“Great new way of learning”

“Really interesting exercise and gained knowledge from a parent’s perspective”

Different way of learning

“Very interesting and in depth start to the module”

“Eye-opening. Thank you!”

“This was helpful and encouraged me to think more about effects on the parents”

“Really different way of teaching. Never done this before but did enjoy it and have found it beneficial.”

I have really enjoyed teaching using poetry and reading about the interesting ways you have been using poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. I would love to hear any feedback or thoughts you have and am really excited to commence some collaborative work with Kirsten.

WolvesUni

Wednesday 10th June 2015

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Pete

Hello All

It has been a busy few months for us, as the poetry theme seems to be gathering momentum. Our first bit of good news was that Kirsten has gained a Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellowship. This is an award to celebrate excellence in teaching, and the development of the Caring Words website has gone some way to demonstrate how innovative ideas can be developed into practice.

We have had further success encouraging our pre registration nursing students to share their poems in the classroom. Some of these poems will be published on the site very soon. Writing and sharing our poems can help us understand who we are as nurses and consider how we relate to others in the caring relationship.

One poem had a big impact at a recent event, ‘The 6’C’s are for everyone’. This was a national event held in London earlier this month during which our Programme Lead, Jacqui Gladwin, talked about the ways in which the 6 C’s are embedded into our undergraduate nursing curriculum. The poem attracted the attention of Kath Evans, Head of Patient Experience at NHS England, who tweeted on the day, ‘Powerful poem by a student nurse – are we listening?’ We hope that through poetry we can reinforce the value of relational rather than transactional care, including the need to listen much more than we speak. Big thanks go to student nurse Rose Brewster, who wrote this poem on the subject of communication, in the first year of her course:

Pete

“Having a wash this morning Pete?”
“I think I am too exhausted.”

Out comes the flannel and tepid water.

“What do you want to wear today Pete?”
“I am in the mood for something blue.”
“That pink shirt looks good on you.”

“Having a shave Pete?”
“My wife is coming today.”
“You can be stubbly as it is Sunday.”

“Comfy in your chair Pete?”
“It feels like my arms and legs are on fire.”
“Good, moving you again would make me perspire.”

“What do you want to watch Pete?”
“Same as every other day, BBC.”
“ITV is the best day time tele.”

“You got everything you need Pete?”
“I am sat on my call bell.”
“If you remember something I’ve missed give us a yell.”

Off goes nurse Kerry.

Jeremy Kyle comes on the tele.

PETE BLOODY HATES JEREMY KYLE.

If you would like to contribute then please upload your poem to ‘The Poems’ section of the website. Here you will be able to read what others have written and perhaps find something to which you can relate… Enjoy the summer and happy writing. Kirsten and Caroline July 2014

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And these are my golden years?

Hello Everyone

Hope you are all well and the longer days are encouraging you to be creative.

We have had a busy month so far having just returned from the Royal College of Nursing Research Conference, held in Glasgow. We presented a poster about compassion, and how this can be explored through poetry writing. Our poster showcased some of our students work and their feelings about the process of poetry writing. It provided us with a good opportunity to discuss creativity and the ways in which creative methods can be used to explore feelings about practice.

Compassion, emotion and resilience were popular themes during the conference, with many papers referring to these concepts. Presenters shared their research studies many of which focussed on compassion; what it is and why sometimes it is absent in nursing practice. The following poem was written by one of our first year BSc (Hons) Nursing students, Chris Walker. It explores an incident when compassion might have been lacking:

And these are my golden years?

“Here, there are some hard and fast rules, or like, coping tools?

Did you say 1 sugar or 2?

Yeah, smacking and thrashing he even tried to bite me!

He has had a rough time but we do have to be firm, see.

It was time to get up, after all.

Showers cannot wait till later in the morn’.

We will have to write this up, fill in the blanks, dot the I’s cross the T’s,

but it’s all just part and parcel of this industry.

Be factual, “challenging behaviour?”.

What about “bouncing round the room like a crazy raver?”

Haha!

No, “refusing reasonable requests” sounds better.

I think he is getting worse, he seems aggressive, depressed and refusing medication, we need to have a meeting about his best interests.

This man will not comply to the life we have provided.

It is our opinion, wholly and undivided that his mind has faulted and slowed, halted, grinded, it is dulled and blinded.

To the life we have provided”

We hope that this poem has encouraged some thinking about the meaning of compassionate practice. Thank you for your contributions. Kirsten & Caroline

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Paul Tubbs

This month, our Head of Nursing at MMU, Mr Paul Tubbs, has kindly written a few words about his experiences.

I had already been writing poetry for a few years when I started my nurse training in 1969 but it was an experience in 1967 that shaped what I later went on to write. I was on holiday in Weston Supermare and went into a folk club where a guy was reciting from a little Penguin Modern Poets book – The Mersey Sound – Roger McGough, Adrian Henry and Brian Patten. I became hooked on the pithy, humorous verses and street level sentiment. I had only read traditional poetry at school and this was a revelation!

My own writing took on a Mersey style but I began also to express more raw emotion and I think that this is where poetry is so unique; it can be personal and private, or, it can be brash and loud. Or it can even be all of those, depending on context.

I helped set up a folk club at the hospital where I was a student, RNH Haslar in Gosport. This was to become a vehicle for me to recite my poetry, and that of others, as well as being a platform for me to play guitar and sing the songs I had begun to write. The Vietnam war was still going strong then, so much of what I wrote reflected the protest themes of the time but, looking back, I can see that much of my poetry was quite dark and brooding. Yet I don’t recall myself being so in nature, always having been of a happy disposition. I wonder where that came from?

But, as I began to have exposure to patients and their suffering and challenges, I started to write about my emotions which were often tinged with sadness and regret, but regret about what? Poetry became a way of expressing this in and honest and emotive way. I could write what I felt without having to tell anyone, although reciting poems could be quite uncomfortable, and not just for me!

Some of what I wrote was published in small poetry magazines or the local press, but mostly I wrote for myself. Unfortunately,  I lost my opus from the roof of the car on the way to a recital – ‘To the Cells of my body, wherever they are.’ – an outpouring of anger and grief following the death of a patient whose family I had got to know, whose children had helped me decorate the ward Christmas tree, and who died, as far as I was concerned (as a first year student nurse), of medical negligence, the medical staff had dismissed the nurses’ reports of faecal fluid leaking from incisions.

I’ll select some of my poems for the website and you can read, but hopefully not judge, for yourself about what a young student nurse in the 60s/70s felt about love, life and everything!

Thanks Kirsten for the opportunity to revisit a time in my early life that I had all but forgotten about, and for a very enlightening and enjoyable website.

Paul J Tubbs

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Alex Short

For our December update we are pleased to introduce Alex Short, one of our first year student nurses, reflecting on his feelings when asked to write a poem about compassion…..
AlexBlogPoetry?! That silly thing my English teacher told me I “just need to learn” when I asked when her “when will I need to actually use this?” That is pretty much the last thing I thought would form part of my nurse education. So, yes, I was initially sceptical, but then I heard the poems written by the rest of my cohort. As I listened to the works of people who I had shared lectures with, I began to understand not just their experiences of Placement but also how it had affected them, not only as a student nurse but also on a more personal level.

However, before I would hear their poems I had to write my own. I picked up my pen and stared at a blank piece of paper, nothing happened, the paper stared back at me and nothing, tortuously, continued to happen. This was not going to be easy. I sought advice from my friends. Some of them were struggling but others had produced really engaging poems. Chris had written his rather good poem “on the bus”. I decided to knuckle down and just get it done and out of the way.

I knuckled down, and I tried, I really did. I found an experience from placement and attempted to extract it from my brain and put it down onto the paper. When I read it back the idea was there but the words were clumsy. Fine, good enough, it’ll do and after all, I don’t want to be a ruddy poet I want to be a nurse.

But then at our second session I heard everybody else’s poems. That was what changed my opinion of the exercise: hearing the honest experiences of my peers and, from their poetry, glimpsing a part of the impact those experiences had made on them. They had crafted their poems on a personal level, and it really did shine through, another reminder that nursing is not ‘just a job’ but so much more.

After being enriched by the poems of my peers I decided to try again. It was not any easier the second time around but I persevered and ended up with something that I am actually a little proud of. If my new poem were a cake it would not hold a candle to those on the Great British Bakeoff but it would be my cake, not quite the right shape and bit burnt on top. I would know how that cake was made and, to me, that would be more important than the finished, lumpy, burnt cake itself.

I realise now that the whole poetry exercise has helped me reflect on my practice and understand the reflections of my peers. On a personal level, the act of searching within myself to find words that will fit in the arbitrary constraints of the poem I’m working on help me reflect and it is something I want to continue to do.

Many thanks to Alex for sharing his reflection, and to all of you who have kindly shared your poems with us this year.

Kirsten & Caroline

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