Poetry and Film in Palliative Care Rotating Header Image

About

Poetry and Film in Palliative Care is a Qualitative Study in collaboration with two Hospices in Edinburgh. The purpose of the Study is to explore the feasibility and acceptability of poetry reading and discussion with patients in day care units in palliative care institutions. It also aims to explore the benefits of film watching and discussion for the bereaved.

During my first activities at St Columba’s Hospice, I read to the patients the poem ‘Portami il girasole ch’io lo trapianti’ (‘Bring me the sunflower’) written in 1924 by Eugenio Montale and published in Ossi di seppia  in 1925. Although the poem engendered discussion and appreciation, it was not until I read a poem that directly referred to terminal illness, ‘Snowdrops’ (2000), written by Myra Schneider, that the patients really engaged with the text. Both texts use images of flowers, both flower images incarnate resilience, both texts contain the image of death and disappearance, yet it was the clear reference to physical illness and lived trauma that profoundly touched the patients. They heard their stories recounted through the poem’s lines written by another person who had left behind her a similar story. The poem activated their desire to recount their own stories.

This is when my project ‘Poetry in Palliative Care’ truly started.

I report both texts below.

 

Bring me the sunflower so I can transplant it
to my earth scorched with salt,
so it can display all day to the azure mirrors
of sky the anxiety of its yellow face.

Dark things stretch towards brightness,
bodies exhaust themselves in a flow
of colours: this in music. To vanish
is thus the hazard of venturing.

Bring me the plant that leads
where blond transparencies rise
where life dissolves like essence;
bring me the sunflower crazy with light.

(E. Montale, 1925)

***

‘Snowdrops’

As I stare at the small
white heads, their circular bed
set in a bald frontage,
the afternoon swells
with distress. I imagine picking,
imagine pressing layers
of green-rimmed petals
to my chest to cover
the emptiness which will shout
when I lose my left breast.

Though they look weak
beneath a bush’s crude
black spread of branches
these are not drops, crystals,
bells that ring thinly,
not hangdog ninnies,
timid girls running out of breath.

They have heaved through
weighty clay lumps,
speared freezing air
to bloom without summer’s prop –
are more daring
fiercer than the swimming
open-mouthed fear that wants
to devour me. They stand
uncowed by the north wind,
its sudden bluster, cruel bite.
And as I move on each flower
fills me like an annunciation.

(M. Schneider, 2000)