This is this then. The Emergency Poet travels the land, pitching up in sometimes unpredictable places and putting down poems for troubled and untroubled souls. All adminstered from the back of her vintage classic British ambulance. It's true. As you and I know, there is a huge waiting list of people needing poetry in their lives, so, we jumped the queue a little bit and here's what we found...
Outsideleft: Whaaaat!? Whoooo!? How and so on?
Emergency Poet: Emergency Poet is a woman dressed up as a doctor with a stethoscope, driving a 1970’s ambulance. She has with her either Nurse Verse or a qualified Poemedic. This crack medical team administers poetry, either through a ten minute one to one consultation on the stretcher in the back, or via the Cold Comfort pharmacy, where there are bottles of pills containing poems for various ailments....from such things as Anxiety, Internet Addiction, Empty Nest Syndrome, to Poetry Viagra and pills for Unrequited Love.
OL: What, where has been the least likely place you've found yourself popping up as the emergency poet
Emergency Poet: I have found myself in a few strange places; a wedding, an NHS Conference with posh consultants and Andy Burnham, a pub... but I think the strangest poetic emergency I attended was for a creative wild swimming project last Summer, called Dip - http://www.dipshropshire.com/ - where I set up the ambulance in some beautiful places in Shropshire and people came along, had some creative workshops and a wild swim. I had people dripping pond water in the back of the ambulance!
I was also in attendance at Bristol Southmead Hospital for a few days, parked amongst the real ambulances, and felt a bit of a fraud! But it actually made sense to be there, talking poetry to people who were frightened or anxious!
OL: How long does a typical consultation last?
Emergency Poet: They last about ten minutes on average. Children’s consultations are quicker.
OL: Is this like living theatre for your guests in the ambulance? Are they co starring in their own co production?
Emergency Poet:That’s a really good question! It looks like a piece of street theatre, but it has more in common with gypsy fortune telling caravans of the past....part theatre, but the conversations are real and intimate, and the poetry is really good poetry.
OL: Without naming names... What has been your toughest case? And what in the end did you recommend?
Emergency Poet: I really cannot remember a particular tough case, and if they come in actually acting tough, they soon soften. I think that the hardest ones for me are when I talk to people who have not been readers at all in their lives, not even having books that they loved in their childhood. I also get asked for poems for them to give to a loved one, to help them and this doesn’t really work...I have spent time listening and learning about the person in front of me and the gift of the poem is for them, not anyone else.
OL: Do you have repeat visitors?
Emergency Poet: It has surprised me, but yes, quite often. People who have had a consultation often seek me out again which is lovely!
OL: It's not like penance is it?
Emergency Poet: Not remotely! Unless it’s what you’re after! In that case I could probably find a poem for someone who is seeking absolution.
OL: Has anyone ever been helped by the poetry of Charles Bukowski?
Emergency Poet: Oh yes! Mainly through empathising through a shared experience. I like his poem The Retreat and use that quite often.
OL: Poetry, adults don't seem to love it. Children absolutely do, what happens?
Emergency Poet: Secondary school happens. They pull poems – and poetry - to pieces.
OL: Could you help Nicky Morgan?
Emergency Poet: I’m not sure that she can be helped, but there are a few poems I might share with her! I love this one .... and then there’s this poem from my friend Heather Wastie...
OL: About the Ambulance...? What can you tell us? What's under the hood? What size are the tires? Where did it work as a medical ambulance before you acquired it? What's dodgily unreliable about it?
Emergency Poet: Blokes of a certain age often shuffle up to us at festivals and want answers to these very questions! It’s a ‘79/ 80 registered Ford Transit with an older Wadham ambulance body bolted to the back. I bought it from e-bay and it came from a de-commissioned nuclear power station in Scotland, where it had hardly been used, and so was in mint condition with just 6,000 miles on the clock! it’s got a 2.5 litre engine, 4 gears, and it has a top speed of about 60 mph. It is a wonderful thing and has been amazingly reliable....except we had to have a bit of an engine over-haul recently because of disintegrating pipes and bushes because of its age. Also, there is no power steering and so parking and manoeuvring in city centres and outside libraries can be knackering!
My first ambulance was a 1950’s Morris, which looked gorgeous, but spent most of the time travelling on a trailer!