The following poems were written by Phil Isherwood, who is the volunteer poet at Bolton Hospice. All of these poems were inspired by Hospice patients and staff. Phil would like to express his gratitude and the privilege he feels as a poet for having the opportunity to meet so many truly inspiring people at the hospice.
About the Hospice:
Our team of doctors, nurses and other professional staff provide specialist care and support for local people with cancer and other life-limiting illnesses and their families, in the hospice and at home. We provide care throughout a patient’s illness, so that they can achieve the best possible quality of life, including end-of-life care.
About Creative Therapy:
Creative therapy is part of the range of our services that help in the well-being of patients and their families. It gives patients the opportunity to use expressive and creative skills in individual or group work.
Involvement in creative projects can give a sense of achievement through arts and crafts, such as drawing, painting, weaving, embroidery, scrapbooking and recording memories.
Our creative therapist tailors activities to each individual patient and supports them in expressing themselves through creative therapy.
Patients can also express their memories and stories in art–which can create a lasting gift for families and friends, or may even be part of a poem. We have a volunteer poet, Phil Isherwood, who finds inspiration from patients’ memories and stories, as well as their creative work, to write poems that celebrate life.
Since the hospice opened in 1992, we have helped thousands of local people and every single one of our supporters has played a part in helping us to reach this special anniversary. Together we need to raise around £3.2 million a year to continue to provide our services for free. This year Bolton Hospice is celebrating a significant milestone–25 years of caring for local people. Thank you!
Colours in a Box
Graphite, Starlight, Lightening,
Rocket, Poppy, Crimson,
Cosmic Copper, Coffee Bean,
Sunflower and Galaxy.
Olive and Ivy,
Pearl Platinum and Moonlight.
Out of the box
the dewdrop petals now
rest in the artist’s hands.
The colours come to life.
Finding again the sweet,
The poet who wraps words
around my mind’s musings,
manages to breathe with me,
feel the sun and rain, the
scorch and splatter on my skin.
He walks, I walk.
A companion’s voice,
the one able to share
silences. The one whose
only desire is my discovery
of raindrops on this broad leaf.
They kiss and die and run.
At first it seems there is a fog of colours drifting over,
fog that’s named and bound on each scratched surface,
pushed into the cry of history. We see the men of Jarrow
with their story told in paint, barbed wires and graves.
Somewhere unseen roam the officials in their corridors.
They declared the ‘land for heroes’, then ruled to steal
the pride of men who’d come back from the trenches.
The rain is lashing crowds that stand in welcome.
Everything draws towards a face that has all this in view.
The arms of coal and steel, the walk and song of protest,
the backs of men that called out shame from questions
loaded on them by the plight of starving children.
Their footsteps reach here, as torn emblems of flash red,
brick walls and jagged lines that claim no staring truth.
Now it is the turn of art to show us something else,
the mystery of a better hope through fragments.
‘‘Grateful doesn’t even come close.’
My blacked-out dive into the water
as I set up for fishing that day.
Probably my last trip to Lindholme,
and I tried to swallow the lake!
They got me out, the people from
nowhere now everywhere. Nurse-
angels I never knew, friends and
farm folk. Checked out, dried out
and decked out in new clothes.
I won a fishing prize later that day.
But the bigger, better prize is you.
The prize of learning that I’m not alone.
Today I go a little slower. I now walk
with a stick. With each step that it
takes my weight, I think of all the richness
to be found in friends and in strangers.
You can never have too many.
Repositories of phrase and reason,
deep freezers of thought-store,
leftovers to come in useful.
One day, when I was hungry,
a rummaging produced a line or
four, from long-forgotten dinner
parties, recent sleepless nights.
The weight of a sleeping child.
An oxymoron of realistic art.
A Fray Bentos just-in-case pie.
The hooligan verse of youth.
It is a culinary challenge to avoid
the pauper’s stew or easy buffet.
I did nothing with the lines but had
to solve the stalking menace of their
premature release. Here they wait,
constrained, infusing in a sonnet.
Without uncertainty there is
no space for creativity.
Creativity is the path that finds
the beauty in uncertain life.
A life of suits. More than thirty
thousand cut with care for strangers
familiar by their measurements.
Smart, standing tall, a wedding,
an interview, work, a funeral.
All imagined from an order docket.
Some I have seen finished, on
family or on friends. Several suits
for me too. The smart occasions
walking out, arm in arm, well-dressed,
shoes polished. Imagine the red carpet.
I began at Burtons when I was fourteen.
Forty-two years of made-to-measure.
Today is all about self-service, a mass
fitting in to someone else’s choices.
Choosing for yourself needs a triangle of
tailor’s chalk. Strike. A matter of knowing
how to measure and knowing how to cut.
A New Picture
A new picture begins. It has required
a decision. A layer of white translucence
now mystifies the brittleness, engages
with the possibilities of the canvas.
It is another time. A generous blue
pours and folds with quiet pleasure.
Memories are sealed without words.
A new landscape can accept this.
I watch as the cosmic fall of colour
builds a foreground, see the dance of
light that makes a space. I understand
the space is needed for a new horizon,
I understand, now I have made a start.
I may finish the picture. One day, perhaps…
The Work of Art
Paint poured, viscous, swirl-spread,
then covered. A technique with
cling film, an art bondage, to push
these colours about. Veins tense
beneath the skin, the sweet
protest from the land of the paper.
This is the geography of art, the valley,
the ridge, the sweep of the pastures
towards each chromatography. There is
a diagnosis of the shore as it seeps into
the limits of the sea. My eyes flick between
the white lagoons and the central dark lake.
I think about the freedom of the morning,
about the peeling away of a different story.
Within a frame something happens.
In shapes of somewhere far off the
embroidery of a child’s memory is taming
monsters, naming them as friends.
One of them is released to eat the sun as
from another room a crowded monologue
has ended (a boy, the haddock and chips,
wandering past whippets and licking his lips).
I am watching the fearless hands engaging.
They follow meandering marks to correct and
control, recording each conversation between
the picture and its parchment thirst.
A unicorn bows into desire. Two lovers
are enticed into finding the same place.
Words in need of companions have become
set and free in the composition of a song
that lies here on these sweeping staves.
Fingers blend the wilds of patient eye and
everything is in place to look complete; but then
no frame constrains this voice to stay the same.
Suppose, we do not speak,
or what if I just listened?
As we move I can hear the
pull of the oars, the water
drum lapping the sides. The
air is chilled by something.
I liked the stories best, the
mischief of well spent youth,
how you never quite travelled alone,
steering through interfering squalls.
You describe the views of
places I only thought I knew.
So what was I doing here?
The question stays in my head.
For a while we move away, out
into the open water. You tell me
you are fearful, tell me questions
that have no answers. I reach out
my hand, it rests on your arm.
The oars are now still by the shore.
One farewell gaze, unbroken, on the
sea that forms my words. Thank you.
A stone, a ring, a coin, a book,
a set of keys, a shoe, a violin,
an onyx charm, a St Christopher
from Granddad’s chain. Precious
reminders, collected and kept.
We inherit as we begin. Some
to wear, some to carry through
until their time to be given away.
There is always a longer journey,
for the treasure of a memory held
in the smallest space of the hand,
to wonder how it could have been.
A stone, a ring, a coin, a book.
The precious that will carry on.
The Things We Turn Into Art
The things we turn into art. There’s
a poem in a foot shape, above the instep
polystyrene space, where it waits for
the expressionist to add a scream.
What does indigo feel like? I think how
a tree changes in each year’s new clothes,
a dressing and undressing of seasons
whilst the slow, slow voice comes
amongst the landscape of the standing.
Today I discover the Schwitters collage,
the benefits of banana paper. I watch
the spray prepare silk for sunshine.
The poem becomes a stack of cut and
torn fragments, remembered debris,
words shunted out of sentences.
Her hands hold a book as a sculpture.
The precious print is now origami and
each page an open pocket for new ideas.
To the Taj Mahal
But you have been there. The exotic
machinist who sought the beauty shared,
toured through Rajasthan, its Red City,
returned and returned. So, now, we visit
again through the small hours of memory,
through the telling. Here. I am listening.
A greater permanence of the imagined
with piecework rates for each picture,
sights of slums, sights of the majestic,
the outside that now comes within.
To me, the exotic sightseer’s assistant.
We admire pyramids and pathways, their
small embellished stones and, above,
see each star found in a new dark sky.
Things you remember whilst travelling.
Wrexham to Dunham Town. I stopped
four years at an orphanage. At eight I
came home. Mum had a bigger family.
Long rows of veg. Struggling mine-
workers and holding mum’s hand at the
gates. We stood there for ages, waiting
to rescue the pay packet from disaster.
A thick rice pudding to share, a
squabble of skin and jam. At school
I ducked from a flying blackboard duster.
Me, Sir? Did I really talk that much?
The windows fly past at speed. It was
better when you were next to me.
The slow climb, into a tunnel, then
out into the sunlight. Dazzled.
We met at a fuel stop. You returned,
stopped again, asked me to the Palais.
We danced. Now, I’m still looking out
through windows, bright-eyed and smiling.
W a s g i j – J i g s a w
A word piece fits. Perhaps. But
I’m not standing where you are.
I rely on the mirror of your eye.
You laugh, sigh, sometimes cry.
Piece by piece, stories take shape
in space that’s undefined by line,
no edge or straight of frame that
ever tells me we will see a finish.
The eye is taking in another view
as we hold The White Tiger and
Climbing the Mango Trees, more
Chronicles. The listening books.
I ask, ‘Do books listen?’ A smile,
because the double-sided pieces
allow us to enjoy the searching.
It is a game to set this challenge,
check out every island form with
what I think you see. Each poem
comes as jigsaw pieces of a story.
However ‘framed’ I may try to set
the words, there is always space,
always more pieces yet to find.
The line from the back door runs to
the wall, sheets flutter over the shelter.
My father still has one, an odorous store.
Home fires continue to burn.
Pants to all wars. It was all for nothing.
Objectors, conscientious not cowardly.
War, war, a life cut too short.
A sixteen-year-old in the trenches.
Red, white and blue, God save the King.
My uncle served as a medic.
Granddad took water out to the front,
returning, each day, carrying bodies.
Pride and Respect. A father wounded,
mum’s got the postcards from France. They
hung out their washing on the Siegfried Line
then the poppies grew from the earth.
It feels like winter
waiting within the unknown
to write the endings.
We talk about seeds, soil,
the sweet and bitter almonds.
Spade sharpened, roots cut.
Solace in the clearer skies
walking past the drills.
Solace in these fallow fields.
What, now, of the watchful child?
What rests in my hand?
This season of all questions
please sit here and pray—
the endings need beginnings
and hard to tell the difference.