Poems in the Waiting Room


To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius and to mend the heart…

— Alexander Pope.

Poems in the Waiting Room (PitWR) is an arts in health charity which supplies short collections of poems for patients to read while waiting to see their doctor; the collections are presented as a three-folded A4 pamphlet, printed both sides on card. The poems draws from both the canon of English verse and from contemporary works.

The Project:

One objective of Poems in the Waiting Room is to provide a showcase for contemporary poetry. The aim is to promote poetry and to make the visit more pleasant, adding quality to waiting time.

The Poetry:

The guidelines for submissions were originally devised with the advice of a consultant psychiatrist and experienced family doctors. The crucial issue is an appreciation that readers are patients waiting for a medical consultation. They are therefore already likely to be in a heightened state, anxious and concerned, and possibly even emotionally disturbed. A poem is acceptable only when it is sensitive to these feeling in ways that alleviate the pressure and avoid new emotional challenge.

Poems should flow from the springs of well-being. Hope is all-inclusive, but like images and symbols, such as home and acceptance, safe journey and arrival, friends and companionship, care and security, harvest and abundance, work and reward, books and learning, beauty and transcendence, spring and renaissance, together with all the joys of love and loving, are eminently appropriate.

However, poems cannot be too anodyne, as they can become poezac, the literary form of Muzak, and interest is rapidly lost. Explicit medical and health issues are best avoided, although poems which centered upon somatic experience, such as senses of sight, taste, smell, touch or hearing, work well. Readers are likely to be strongly bodily aware.

The use of Eliot’s correlative object seems the most satisfactory way of exploring patient’s medical concern. Variety is essential.

Poems may exploit the waiting room experience itself. Poems about time and pressures of time fit in well. Poems on identity of self and others, when confronting a large bureaucracy, are also suitable. Poems which are simply a good but short gossip, typical of what you might hear in the waiting room, also work. Further, the poems must be easily accessible and not make great demands. The doctor’s waiting room is not an environment for experimental work. The poems should best meet popular notions of poetry.

In addition, of course, the usual poetry workshop precept ‘show don’t tell’ and its like, apply. Short poems (20/30 lines) are preferred to long to allow scope and variety within a collection.

Submissions by email are particularly welcome or by Royal Mail to PO Box 488 Richmond TW9 4SW. If sending by email, it is best to copy and paste the text into the message body. High fire walls usually wipe out attachments mistaking poetry for viruses.

As a token of appreciation to poets making submissions, each quarter a draw is held with the prize of a copy of Poems in the Waiting Room Collected Edition 1998-2006. The volume presents the poems published in thirty-four quarterly editions of the series.

I would not expect a poet to write particularly to these stipulations. Any poem written to specification I usually find quite lifeless. It may well be however that if you look over the body of your work you could find two or three that, even with some tweaking might suit. I should be pleased to see them.

Michael Lee, Editor, Poems in the Waiting Room.

Source of message: EMIT Writers News, June 2007.

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