About Me


RoganI’ll begin here by saying that I founded and still run a project called “Poems for the Wall.” I’ll come back to that below. First, I should say that I earned most of my living as a mental health social worker. Then I went free-lance and now I’m retired from social work altogether. I have three adult sons.

In more detail, here first are some thoughts and a bit more story about the social work aspect.

“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 with ‘severe and enduring’ mental health problems. The centre was a place of refuge, support and opportunity for people otherwise often isolated and rejected. It implied and supplied a creative interchange between the individual and the surrounding community.

Someone I respected once called the people who attended these places my “constituents.” They were people I was answerable to and for whom I 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.

Another way of seeing and understanding the place – a way I became more and more fond of over the years – was that it was a kind of secular “parish centre” for people otherwise without a community or “parish” to belong to, people who were outcasts to a degree, without a valued social role. The centre could provide a base, a community, a purpose and structure of purposive activity, a sense of personal value and belonging, both haven and bridge.  

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 being 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 on the retreat and being denied, the quantitative slowly overwhelming the qualitative . 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. At first, I called it “Poems for the Waiting Room” ; then, as demand for the poems spread wider than healthcare settings, I changed the title to “Poems for…” ; and finally “Poems for…” has become “Poems for…the wall.” 

“Poems for…the wall” supplies small poem-posters for public display, free of charge, to healthcare waiting rooms and libraries and schools. There are several hundred poems available, many of them bilingual, with 50 different languages represented. The bilingual poems are slowly being added to. In 2016, they were joined by a collection on mental ill-health and another on learning disability. And in 2023, a collection for 25 illustrated poems for children was launched, called “Poems for Rising Ten.”

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 space which all of us will occupy at some point or other in our lives, in our common fragility. 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. 

For obvious reasons, the Covid pandemic greatly reduced the profile of “Poems for the Wall.” Poems chosen for display in public places rely on public places to be open for them. And for a long time, the libraries, healthcare waiting rooms, classrooms, were all closed. After they opened again, demand for the poems did not recover quickly. At the time of the writing of this present paragraph (early 2023), it was still right down.   

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, the accurate reportage made of human breath and brain and voice-box, 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 individual 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 almost as great as our fear of death. 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 Gloucester with my partner Nicola. My ex-wife Sophia, mother of my sons, died of cancer in 2012. 


Copyright © Rogan Wolf – Poet and Social Worker
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