Warning May Contain Nuts!
The writing in this collection has been created, discovered and edited in poetry workshops with Company Paradiso in Berkshire and Sussex. We also mentored some writers who could not attend workshops. We chose to work in these counties because we were funded by the Arts Council to develop partnerships with BBC Radio Berkshire and BBC Radio Sussex.
When this project began early in 2010, no boundaries were placed on the subject of the writing. It quickly became apparent that there was a lot of humour in the centres we were visiting, and this is reflected in the book. We were overwhelmed both by the amount of people who wrote and the quality of the writing. This quality belies the fact that the writers here experience often severe mental distress in their life. The writing in this collection reveals the creative and imaginative gifts that many people in the mental health sector possess, and how creativity can bring well-being. As one of the writers, Richard Candy (see page 30) explains: ‘I write really from the exasperation of 25 years of mental suffering. I had tremendous panic attacks until 2006, when I wrote my first story. Writing gives me a sense that, however difficult or bewildering my feelings are, I have a power over them, it gives me a feeling of not being helpless.’
One of the project’s starting points was to look for poetry that told a story and would work in performance. This was partly because of our partnership with radio stations and our performance events. It also chimed with the work of John Hegley, whose work we greatly admire. We were particularly pleased when an audience member at the Pavilion Theatre in Brighton, Dennis Donovan, commented: ‘when I heard there would be poetry, my heart sank. But my view was completely changed during the performance. It was one of the most spiritual afternoons I have ever spent. People were talking honestly, clearly, without masks.’
One of the key aims of our project was to highlight and fight against the social stigma surrounding mental health, by allowing people who are often denied a voice a public platform for their talents. This aim was realised during our radio weeks and at our performances, at South Street Arts Centre in Reading, then at the Pavilion Theatre in Brighton, where we sold out. As Danny Savage (page 96) told listeners: ‘There’s no drug I’ve been on, prescription or otherwise, that has quite the same effect as being up there, making the audience laugh and cheer.’
Jon Potter Company Paradiso