Philip Ruthen on
Out Is The Word
An anthology of creative writing by members of The Word Is Out writing workshop
(founded at the Social Inclusion Hope and Recovery Project, (SHARP) a statutory service in Lambeth, part of the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) Hospital Foundation Trust)
Edited by Anne Cooper
Funded by Guys and St. Thomas Charitable Trust
Hardcover, SHARP 2012
ISBN 978-1-4675-2791-0 Pages: 70 Price: £7.50
It’s no mean feat to publish a vibrant creative writing anthology which also promotes the method and sources of its production - here co-production with the South London and Maudsley Social Inclusion Hope and Recovery Project team (SHARP) (1) - whilst retaining the dignity and integrity of the selected literary works. The Word Is Out workshop writers’ collection has certain advantages that overcome any sense of lingering doubts. The blend of lyrics, short stories and poetry that highlight creativity, that allow the circumstances that brought them together to stroll out of shot, adds to the attraction of this book. (2)
The look, feel and accessibility of Out Is The Word helps merge method with instinctive art, and foregrounds a theme ‘…what a disguise of living a life is’ (Tom Collins, p25). Whether it’s the hardcover version I’m referring to here, or the multi-platform e-book version via Smashwords (a welcome choice and addition to wide distribution and access possibilities), the intention to reach out with the word and its expression from life is to be applauded. With James Ferndale’s 'Lambeth' cover photo complete with red bus and an autumn that could be spring and vice-versa, people in puzzled poses admiring or in awe of something just out of view, in song, story and poetry, the writers show ’…recovery is always about moving over new ground’ (Ben Cooper, p20).
There are ‘break sideways’ characters dredging for the soul, bring it into light, setting aside the weight of travel for a while to ensure safe passage. They shake off the silt and ‘sideways-ness’ of a mental health system that for much of recent history had become lost in its own insights and method, creating an impersonal ‘purposeless’ regularity.
In selecting an epigraph from R.D. Laing the creative works have found close affinity to Laing’s rare insight, and themselves:
What is called a poem is compounded perhaps of communication, invention, fecundation, discovery, production, creation… There is something new under the sun; being has emerged from non-being; a spring has bubbled out of a rock...
This epigraph was an inspired choice - the new and the real leaving behind utter despair, holding on to the elemental. The authors’ often-shared experience from mental distress, explicit or otherwise, informs themes of holding fast into the new, a carrying forward of self-esteem from key grounding experiences so that mindfulness memory/possibility can become alive again. The collective unconscious memories of childhood, both of comfort, and opportunity, chime regularly through the pages where: ‘…The mind is a marketplace./…You are there with your own/ business to do and/there is little time./’ (Miriam Valencia, p70).
There is a creative honesty carried through this collection, but no illusions; this synthesis of past with present can be cruel on the individual where the creative writing makes visible what cannot be forgotten, ‘…creativity unleashed by this act was a factor in her breakdown as well as her salvation’ (Helen George, p31); undeterred, the book’s vital message, if it should have one, is where creativity can flourish, then so can the person, and their community. There is something new being expressed that, out of method and language, is dedicated, has belief, has a glow of release.
And - ‘Recovery’? I’d go further than senior OT lead development officer Anna Croucher’s Introduction which illuminates the confusion persisting within services on how to implement the ‘buzzword’ of ‘recovery’ into ‘practice’. From a service user/survivor perspective, re-stating a view that the colonisation of recovery by e.g. mental health NHS Trusts has led to such diffusions, is still an important perspective to include in such debates. The anthology could be viewed as emerging into a mediating role.
The book displays writing as instinct; if it ever was directed as ‘therapy’, this aspect falls away or becomes a by-product in Out Is The Word, where self-esteem and creativity – word art, or word design (as poet, editor and critic David Morley might describe it) re-takes lost ground. I am still surprised it has taken so long to realise the merits of genuine co-production, ‘…collaboratively working with people as peers, handing over control and responsibility, encouraging a different point of view..’. (Introduction, Croucher).
It’s a method that advances people, rather than slows or stalls system-wide progression, the latter being a view I sense often thought but un-said in public services. Out Is The Word – the nice reversal of the group’s title echoing the reversal in roles, position, creative and working culture: ‘…Every person to his own/Just look up at us/Never a dull moment, never shut up!/…’ (Ruby Govinden, p33).
Anne Cooper and Hanne Lee’s Editorial Note is more diplomatic about recovery than my comment, and vastly important (too modestly titled as an ‘editorial note’) as one of the few, though growing number of ‘service user/mental health system survivor ‘guides not tucked away in reports or training presentations, about the life and times of creative co-production that’s widely accessible to a general reader. The book’s Introduction and steering group Editorial alongside the diverse authors’ works themselves provide another timely call to continue shifting the health and wellbeing services’ cultures and strategies with assistance of confident allies, as are SHARP.
Croucher‘s plea that the anthology, and workshops should live on beyond the funding is one that’s likely to be heard.
I’ve deliberately chosen not to highlight many individual anthology pieces, wanting to present and review the anthology as an interlinked artefact – with the hope, and expectation, the next reader will discover for themselves something new.
Phil Ruthen © 2013
Review first commissioned by the National Survivor User Network (NSUN).
The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the author, and are not intended in any way to represent any organisation’s or network opinions.
(1) The Word Is Out was funded by a Guys and St. Thomas Charitable fund and was founded at the Social Inclusion Hope and Recovery Project, (SHARP) a statutory service in London Borough of Lambeth, part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM).
(2) The Word Is Out is a creative writing project delivered by and for people who use mental health services. Everything about The Word is Out, including the name, promotional materials and logo, the choice of workshops and venues were the decision of a group, made up predominantly of ‘service users’. The majority of workshop facilitators are ‘service users’.
Phil Ruthen’s book reviews, poetry, short stories and articles are widely published in the UK and abroad. His most recent poetry collection is Apple Eye Feat (Waterloo Press, Hove, 2012), details at www.waterloopresshove.co.uk and his short story collection Feint Ruled Lines was first published as a Kindle e-book. Ruthen has also been a Trustee, and Chair of national literature development charity Survivors’ Poetry www.survivorspoetry.org
The Word Is Out
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ISBN: 978 130 114 624 Price: $2.50