About Me

Introduction

RoganI think I am mainly a writer but for over 20 years earned my living running community centres in London for people with enduring mental health problems. At some stage I qualified as a social worker for that purpose, but I don’t think my qualification would count now.

Mental health social work, then, of a sort. But “social work” is just a term and covers a range of activities. What social work meant in my case was that – effectively – I ran parish centres for people otherwise without a parish, community centres for people otherwise without a community. They were places of support and opportunity for people otherwise outcasts. Someone I respected once called such people my “constituents.” I put myself in touch with constituencies of outcasts and I ran centres where they could gather and collect and develop themselves as worthwhile humans, and learn how to function better in the surrounding community.  The role of manager of places of this kind entailed the deployment of counselling skills as well as management skills. I mostly loved the work and its intensity.

Then I went free-lance and for another twenty years was part-time facilitator for 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.

And in that same free-lancing period I began (and still run) a project called “Poems for…the wall” which supplies small poem-posters for public display, free of charge, in 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. 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 are working outside the borders of the UK.

I live in Bristol with my partner Nicola. My ex-wife Sophia died of cancer in 2012. I am English and have three adult sons.

The Writing

I think that writing is a matter of trying to make sense of where and how you are, as best you can ; it’s a way of avoiding falling off the rock-face, a way both of holding on and reaching out. I would go so far as to say that – at least when things are going well – it’s an act of worship. The right word is an almost holy thing.

The right word liberates and dignifies and defuses and helps to orientate. It turns darkness and tumult into some kind of bearable poise and light. It confers 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.”

On my website’s home page, just below this “About Me” section, I have linked to several bits of work, set out in a column. 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 to say on this issue, much learnt. The “division” between mentally well and ill is almost as final and central as that between life and death. I suspect that “losing it” is a fundamental and universal fear. But losing what ? That is altogether less clear. Life ? Self ? Here truly is a fraught frontier and human behaviour is often at its worst along fraught frontiers. 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.

Hyphen-21

Some years ago, I founded and run a small charity called Hyphen-21. This followed the suggestion of a notable social work teacher called Phyllida Parsloe, once the Director of the social work department of the University of Bristol.

The title Hyphen-21 was heavily influenced by a book called “I and Thou” by a remarkable man called Martin Buber. The charity aims to articulate and support the skills of human connection during an era in which they and the people who practice them, are under pressure and attack.

Easy slogans and quantifiable concepts such as Rights, Equality, Customer Care, Choice and Inclusion, concepts often borrowed from the commercial sector, now hold centre stage, to be joined later by years of cut backs. In these conditions, the qualitative skills and bindings which can keep connecting people despite difference, seem too easily and too widely to be neglected, belittled and denied. They are “soft” and hard to measure. Without measurement, they can seem not to count. But with bindings discounted, Society falls apart.

The charity is a small shy affair, chiefly highlighting initiatives which seem to improve conditions for the most vulnerable in some way, while challenging attitudes of detachment and withdrawal where these are unhelpful and unsuitable.

Tucked away in the Background section of the charity’s site are various attempts to understand developments and conditions, using poetry, parable, anecdote – anything that might throw light.  Maybe that’s the best section of the site. Visitors seem to agree. People actually come looking for the “Shadow poems” that can be found there.  But they also come looking for a code of professional good conduct for healthcare ward rounds – initiatives like that which I’m responsible for and which the charity has adopted and for which it has campaigned.

 

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

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