Check your Compass

There have been some great new online poetry magazines launched in the UK in the last year or so. I’ve mentioned The Compass before when they published some reviews  I wrote for poet and reviews editor, Kim Moore, including one of Sarah Howe’s ‘Loop of Jade’. Sarah is one of the editors of Prac Crit, another brilliantly produced and presented contemporary magazine that is totally free to read. The current issue contains some wonderful work by poet Katrina Porteous, as well as a fascinating  and wide-ranging  interview with Katrina by The Butcher’s Dog  magazine editor and poet Jake Campbell.

The new issue of The Compass is full of really good work from poets I have and haven’t come across before, as well as reviews, articles and interviews with many poets I know of and admire. I’m happy to have one of my poems featured today. It’s called ‘Shocks’ and is taken from ‘Traces‘, a sequence reflecting on my nursing experience,
which will be published in a new book next year.



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.’