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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

EXCELLENT Free literary apothecary Poetry Health Service (PHS) now open

I cannot recommend highly enough The Poetry Health Service (PHS), a new, free service that prescribes contemporary poems as a tool for healing and connection which is now open online,

Users are prescribed a poem from an apothecary contributed to by writers from across the world following the completion of a colour-based flowchart exploring how they are feeling. They are then invited to respond to their poem with a Haiku of their own.

Part of the Homemakers project, the Poetry Health Service (PHS) is an Oldham Coliseum Theatre commission in partnership with HOME, Manchester, both good friends of AATA.

Founded by poet, playwright and performer Hafsah Aneela Bashir, PHS, is a brand new, free creative service that prescribes contemporary poems as a tool for connection and healing.

PHS embodies and champions the importance of art in supporting our mental and emotional health. It features poems contributed by writers from across the world including: Hafsah Aneela Bashir (Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellow 2019/20), Roger Robinson (winner of the 2019 TS Eliot Prize), Theresa Lola, Anthony Anaxagorou, Keisha Thompson, Shagufta Iqbal, Salena Godden and USA-based poets: Roya Marsh, Buddy Wakefield and Aisha Sharif.

Users are prescribed a complimentary poem following the completion of a colour-based flowchart. They are then invited to respond to their poetry panacea with a Haiku of their own.

Founder Hafsah Aneela Bashir explains her relationship with poetry and the inspiration behind PHS: “When my 25 year marriage came to an end and I began another a chapter in a new home, with a different landscape, it was Derek Walcott’s ‘Love after Love’ that reminded me to meet myself again and to ‘feast’ on my life and who I have become. When my children wanted to venture out to a life beyond us as parents and discover new chapters of their own, it was Kahlil Gibran’s ‘On Children’ that gave me comfort and tamed the pangs of a mother’s heart letting ‘the bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness’. When I lost three very important people together in a short space of time, it was through poetry that I challenged my grief, writing a poem titled ‘To You’ from my collection The Celox And The Clot – a way to channel all the love that had nowhere to go. When I faced challenges as a woman, I read Maya Angelou’s ‘Phenomenal Woman’ and the work of Audre Lorde. I loved the powerful simplicity of Mary Oliver’s ‘Wild Geese’ when my mind would get quite full – a beautiful reminder that we’re all part of something much bigger that announces our place ‘in the family of things’.

“The fact that poetry has an ability to make sense of what you can’t put into words sometimes, is not new. That poetry can transcend and communicate something to another human regardless of our common or uncommon background across time and space, and then in that moment create an emotional change within us, feels like nothing short of a miracle to me. Especially in a world that can leave many of us feeling isolated, cold and disconnected at times. Just take lockdown as an example. As the government introduced strict measures to keep us in our homes, I shared poetry and short stories everyday for 75 days straight. It was poetry that connected so many of us together.”

Winner of the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship 2019, Hafsah Aneela Bashir was writer-in-residence with Manchester Literature Festival, is an Associate Artist with The Poetry Exchange, an Associate Artist with Oldham Coliseum Theatre and a Supported Artist at The Royal Exchange Theatre. Her play Cuts Of The Cloth was commissioned for PUSH Festival 2019. Her debut poetry collection The Celox And The Clot is published by Burning Eye Books. She has worked creatively with Manchester International Festival, Ballet Black Ldn, HOME Manchester, Manchester Literature Festival and ANU Productions Irl. Before Covid-19 she was developing her SICK! Festival commission,

Four Dholis And A Divorce exploring mental health set in the South Asian community. She is currently writing the libretto for The Bridge Between Breaths, a Tête-à-tête commission in collaboration with Gareth Churchill and FormidAbility.

Contributing poet Shamshad Khan commented: “I am so happy to be contributing to the Poetry Health Service as I know from experience how uplifting and healing poetry can be. As a poet and resilience coach I hope to bring together my skills and personal experience to soothe and uplift anyone who needs it. I know how important and valuable accessible arts and well being projects can be and how much difference they can make to our lives. Hafsah Aneela Bashir is a wonderful advocate for the arts and I’m very pleased to be contributing to her great project.”

clare e. potter added: “I’m glad to share a poem with the Poetry Health Service as it shows how poetry was a healing force for me in the first few days of lockdown when I felt adrift and afraid. Poetry is a conversation and it’s so important that users will be able to respond to the poems they hear and read on this platform by adding their own words. A chain of voices that remind us we are not alone.”

The Poetry Health Service (PHS) is open online at and by texting POETRY to 07401 257 351 (texts charged at your normal rate to a UK mobile).

PHS is an Oldham Coliseum Theatre Homemakers commission, in partnership with HOME, Manchester. Interaction design by Coney represented by Gareth Damian Martin & Tasso

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