The first poem from my sequence Traces about my time as a coronary care nurse has appeared in ‘The Rialto’.
It’s a few years since I worked in the role, but I found myself writing the first of these poems one evening, and drafts followed one another very quickly in succession over a period of days.
The poet Dannie Abse died recently, and I am indebted to him for helping me realise that I too could write about my experiences as a healthcare professional. Abse, a Dr as well as a poet, suggested that he might have suffered from ‘too much empathy’ to be a Dr. It is debatable if nurses can be hampered in their work by an excess of empathy- indeed, the opposite might be a problem.
I do feel that it is certainly the case that people working in such environments bury their emotional reactions to death and dying, partly out of necessity to continue with the job and partly out of a need to conform to cultural norms. I like to think the gap of a couple of years between my working in this role and writing the poems enabled me to capture something of the experience- I know I couldn’t have written them at the time- and I’m pleased that they record some aspects of what was, in retrospect, quite an extreme environment both emotionally and physically.
Writing these poems is a way for me to record, examine and perhaps make sense of my experience. Here is Seamus Heaney talking about how writing poems can help the writer discover a sense of self.
‘I have always thought of poems as stepping stones in one’s own sense of oneself. Every now and again you write a poem that gives you self-respect and steadies your going a little bit farther out in the stream. At the same time, you have to conjure the next stepping stone because the stream, we hope, keeps flowing. The challenge for the writer, book by book, is to conjure a stepping stone that carries you forward.’