About Me

Introduction

RoganIn brief to begin with, I run a project called “Poems for the Wall“.  More on that below. For much of my working life, I worked in the manager of a succession of community mental health projects in London. Then I went free-lance and now I’m retired from social work altogether. Looking back, I can say that I am probably mostly myself when writing, either as poet or prose-writer. I have three adult sons.

In more detail, here first are some thoughts and a bit more story about the social work aspect. It is how I earned most of my living, after all.

“Social work” is a loose term and covers a range of activities. What it meant in my case was that I managed a small team of colleagues in staffing one or another community centre for people otherwise isolated and at risk in some way. The centre was a place of refuge, support and opportunity for people with long-term mental health problems of one kind or another. It was a place of creative interchange between the individual and the community round about.

Someone I respected once called the people who attended these places my “constituents.” They were people I was answerable to and for whom I spoke and campaigned. My “constItuency” were able to use the centre I administered to collect and develop themselves, not just as valued individuals but as valued citizens of the wider community. But this required a mediating role between those individuals and the people around them, the steady creation of openings and interchange. The role of manager of places of this kind entailed the deployment of counselling skills as well as management skills, in both directions, inward and outward. I mostly loved the work and its intensity.

Then I went free-lance and for another twenty years was part-time facilitator of a group of people who had used mental health services. I supported them in advising service managers on the quality of the services provided. I saw that activity as social work, as well. In the same period, I launched a small charity called Hyphen-21, whose aim was to campaign for, and seek effective articulation of,  the skills and qualities associated with community. The “Hyphen” title and image came from that wonderful book “I and Thou” by Martin Buber. I saw the “I – Thou” relationship as Buber defined it, the empathic skills and qualities and mind-set it required, as being central to community and to our future as a race. And they were under attack as never before and they needed defending as never before. That has not changed in recent years and in fact has got much worse, in my view.  However, Hyphen-21 has never really found a platform except as the sponsor of Poems for…the wall, a project I launched at much the same time as the charity.

“Poems for…the wall” supplies small poem-posters for public display, free of charge, to schools, healthcare waiting rooms and libraries. Many of the poems are bilingual, with 50 different languages represented. More recently the bilingual poems have been joined by a collection on mental ill-health and another on learning disability.

In a sense, “Poems for the wall” is a way of using the words and spirit of poetry to bridge difference, to “open people’s lives to each other” in public and sometimes desolate space. It is also, of course, a way of extending the reach of good poetry beyond the merely “literary” and specialist. The project has been funded and supported over the years by a wide range of individuals and organisations, including the UK Arts Council, the NHS, the Foreign Office and the John Lewis Partnership.

The vast majority of people who download the poems are schoolteachers intending to use the poems in class. A very high proportion of these teachers work outside the borders of the UK. The project has been running for over twenty years.

The Writing

I think of creative writing as a lifetime of trying to make sense of where and how you are, as best you can ; it’s like swimming insofar as it might help you not to drown ;  it’s a taking hold, a translating, a reaching out, a transcending. I would go so far as to say that  it can be a form of worship. I know that can sound a bit over the top. Maybe it is. But surely, at least sometimes, the right word is an almost holy thing, larger than its writer and justifying that person’s life.

The right word can liberate and dignify and defuse and connect and help to orientate. It turns darkness and tumult into some kind of bearable poise and light. It can turn desolation into community, it can confer a blessing of some kind.

Here is the poet Ted Hughes on the subject, saying it much more neatly : “What’s writing really about? It’s about trying to take fuller possession of the reality of your life.” And what did TS Eliot have to say about reality ? “Humankind cannot bear very reality ?” So there you go. Both statements are burningly true.

On my website’s home page, along with this “About Me” section, I have linked to several bits of work, set out down the right hand side. Effectively, they are my “collected works” (although there is quite a lot more work not yet brought together). All but one are longish poems, or variations on a theme, and all but one are by me. They include two pieces of work available as books and a few videos and audios.

Mental Health Work

There is much more to say on this issue, much learnt. The “division” or frontier between mentally well and ill is almost as fraught and yet fundamental as that between life and death. I suspect that “losing it” is a universal fear. But losing what ? Control ? Life ? Self ? Here truly is a fraught frontier and human behaviour is often at its worst along fraught frontiers. In the mental health world, and in its various related professions, fundamentalist retreat positions are rife.

There is a new website ready for me finally to get down to writing a great deal more on this subject, putting together all I learnt over all those years. It is called “Better Mental health Working.” I keep saying to myself that I am about to start work on it.

I live near Bristol with my partner Nicola. My ex-wife Sophia, mother of my sons, died of cancer in 2012. 

 

Copyright © Rogan Wolf – Poet and Social Worker
In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

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