Learn about a poetry and health study

Tuesday 23 June 2020

From time to time we are happy to offer guests the opportunity to talk about poetry projects which impress us, but this may be the first poetry and health post we've hosted.  When Georgi Gill explained that she was looking for people to take part in research about the impact of writing poetry on people diagnosed with MS, we thought it would be good if she could reach more people.  So, over to Georgi.

"Both before and since I was finally diagnosed with relapse remitting multiple sclerosis in 2003, I have found it difficult to describe my illness experiences and symptoms to others. I have become fluent in MS medical terminology. My tongue no longer stumbles over the terms dysesthesia, optic neuritis or cognitive dysfunction. Yet these words don’t help me to communicate what it feels like to live in this body, with its woolly sensations of intermittent burning pains, blurred vision, dizziness and fatigue. I am not alone in this: it is acknowledged within the MS community that many of us have difficulty explaining our illness to those around us.

"As a poet, former teacher, and confirmed chatterbox, words are my stock-in-trade. It’s no surprise that I am keen to find potential ways to improve this communication shortfall. It’s also perhaps no surprise that I have chosen to explore the possibilities of poetry in dialogues about MS. There is, of course, a long history of poetry about illness, very often written by the doctors or carers of ill people. Famously William Carlos Williams, Dannie Abse and Raphael Campo have all written knowledgeably and compassionately about their patients.

"Yet I am most interested in hearing the individual voices of ill people sharing their own lived and felt experience of neurological illness, such as in Frank Ormsby’s poems about Parkinson’s disease. Since I contributed to the anthology Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press) in 2017, I have been experimenting with poetry as a way of documenting and communicating my lived experience of MS. For me, poetry is a place where I can explore that which I don’t yet understand about my brain and body; that which I find difficult to articulate in prose; that which doesn’t fit into a neat anecdote.

"Accordingly, I have developed the Poetry and Multiple Sclerosis (P.a.M.S.) Study, at the University of Edinburgh, in which I am inviting people living with MS to try writing poems about their illness. In this way, we can explore whether poetry may give us new ways to communicate our MS to those around us.

"People living with MS in the UK may be eligible to take part in the P.a.M.S. study which is happening online. Participation involves up to two interviews with me, and attending informal poetry workshops where there will be opportunities to try writing poems. After the workshops, participants will be invited to share one or more of their poems with somebody they trust, such as a friend or family member, however nobody will be obliged to share their writing if they do not wish to do so.

"No previous poetry experience is required, although if people have written poems before, they are also very welcome to participate.

"To find out more about the P.a.M.S. Study, take a look at our website. If you have any questions or would like to discuss taking part, the contact details are on the site. I’d love to hear from you!"

If you might be interested in taking part in the P.a.M.S. Study, see the Take Part page on their website at www.poetryandmsstudy.org/take-part