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Today marks the start of Mental Health Week, running until Saturday 15 October with World Mental Health Day tomorrow.

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The week is about shining the light on mental health by educating and engaging people through interactive events across the state, including community festivals, art exhibitions, music, theatre and seminars.

One such event is the Festival of Now, coordinated by the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia in Light Square on Friday 14 October, to bring the mental health community together, showcase the creativity used in the healing journey and reduce the stigma still associated with this multi-faceted condition.

Two of my poems, ‘Beautiful thinking‘ and ‘Session time‘, have been shortlisted for a Mindshare Poetry Award, which I’m thrilled about, but unfortunately I can’t attend the event because I’ll be interstate.  But I’ll be sure to check in after to catch a roundup of the day’s program.

So get involved wherever and however you can to help promote mental health, and keep yours healthy.

This is today, so why not take some time to check in on your own mental health and see how you’re doing? In aid of this, I went along to the Festival of Now in Rundle Park yesterday where the weather was absolutely gorgeous.

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The festival celebrates mental health and well being in South Australia by bringing the community together through a range of activities and a reminder of the services available to them. So the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia was joined by Centacare, Mental Illness Fellowship South Australia (MIFSA), who also provided some fab beats, Headspace and Uniting Communities for people to talk about their sexuality and gender identity. And there was face painting, juggling, cooking, a magician, animals, art, planting and of course, the Mindshare Poetry Awards.

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This slot was hosted by Geoff Goodfellow and Melbourne-based poet Sandy Jeffs, both of whom shared some of their own work with a focus on mental health and the challenges it can pose (here you can read Sandy’s The Madwoman in this Poem). Alas, I was not fortunate enough to win an award despite having both a short and long poem shortlisted in the ‘Emerging Poet’ category. However, the wonderful Rachael Mead swept the board in the ‘Established Poet’ category, winning both the short and long poem award, so a huge congratulations to Rachael, who found out by me messaging her immediately after!

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It was a good day, with a strong sense of community and togetherness to promote mental health wellness, because we should talk about this and openly share, no one should suffer alone.  So here’s to a mentally healthy day, and for every one that follows  🙂

Mental Health Week will run from Sunday 4th to Saturday 10th October with World Mental Health Day celebrated on 10th October.

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Coordinated by the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia, the week aims to educate and engage people about mental health through interactive events across the state, including an official launch, community festivals, art exhibitions, music, theatre and seminars. The ABC will once again highlight mental health through its Mental As production, a series of television, radio and online programs to get the conversations happening.

The Festival of Now, to help celebrate World Mental Health Day, will be held in Rundle Park, Adelaide on Friday 9th October, bringing the mental health community together to showcase the creativity used in the healing journey and reduce the stigma still associated with this multi-faceted condition.

And I have been fortunate enough to have been shortlisted for a Mindshare poetry award, with winners announced at the festival and invited on stage to share their poems with the crowd.

So please mark this important week in your diaries and join in wherever you can to help promote a positive approach to mental health and if needed, maybe even improve your own.   🙂

I recently found out about a project very close to my heart through Abegail Morley’s The Poetry Shed. To help promote Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK from 11-17 May, Sarah James will be using her blog to host With You In Mind. Sarah James

Sarah is an inspirational poet whose work has been widely published in a variety of journals, anthologies and newspapers, as well as in solo collections. The first, Into the Yell, was published by Circaidy Gregory Press in 2010 and won third prize in the International Rubery Book Awards the following year.   Sarah’s second collection, Be[yond], was published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press in 2013, who have also published her latest book, The Magnetic Diaries, earlier this year.

Like countless others, Sarah has her own stories of mental health that she shares on her site and through her work, something I can relate to as I do the same in my own (try it, it can be very cathartic!).  So having been involved in the last couple of mindshare poetry projects to promote Australia’s Mental Health Week in October, I contacted Sarah to offer my support for her project and any help to promote it. I was then thrilled to be asked by Sarah to use my poetry film, Black dog, in an advance posting of her project.

So keep an eye on Sarah’s site over the coming week to read some fantastic poetry from the likes of Helen Ivory, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Abegail Morley and Catherine Smith, all of whom have generously donated some of their work to this very worthy cause.

This was the title of an article by Pascale Petit in the current edition of Mslexia, and it was an interesting read.

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Pascale has a long list of poetic achievements and some fantastic collections, including The Zoo Father and The Huntress, both published by Seren. The latter focuses on her mother, as does this feature, in which Pascale explains the emotional journey she took when attempting to write about her mother and the impact of the abusive relationship she had with her. Those familiar with Pascale’s work know that animals and the Amazon are strong influences, and to be able to write freely about her mother Pascale identified these with her, in particular a golden jaguar quickly followed by a snow leopard, wolverine, giraffe, etc.  By doing this Pascale managed to literally exorcise herself of her mother’s ghost, eventually being able to think of her and love together in the same space, thanks to Pascale’s love for the creatures representing her mother in her work.

And this is what I love about poetry – catharsis is one of its many facets, giving us the opportunity to transfer difficult people and experiences onto those things so much more familiar to us and that feel far less uncomfortable. There is much to be said about this painful and then pain-free process.

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I met Pascale by attending one of her courses at The Poetry School a few years ago back when I was living in London. The session was called ‘Life Class for Poets’, and focused on generating poetry from image, be they still pictures or a moving life model, encouraging us to free write whatever they inspired within us.  I remember I produced some pretty weird and wonderful pieces, which I really should make the time to revisit and develop further.

I’m currently using Pascale’s Towards a Collection course booklet I brought and downloaded from The Poetry School website (I tried to enroll for the face-to-face course but by popular demand it was over-subscribed, so I was thrilled to find I could still access the materials).  For anyone looking to do this it’s an invaluable tool, and I particularly like the simple exercise of surrounding yourself with all the poems you’re thinking of including to look for themes, patterns, and a general sense of how they look next to one another. You quickly see what works and what doesn’t, those that belong and those that belong somewhere else.

This was the name of an Adelaide Fringe show we saw last night. And quite possibly the best one we’ve seen.

It is, in essence, the love story of Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn, with the central protagonist depression, a mental illness suffered by Tim, which unbelievably can still be taboo today.

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It begins with how they met, moved in together and then Bryony’s discovery of Tim’s medication hidden in a rucksack. And then everything unravels – the story, the set and the couple – as they act out the effect Tim’s illness has on them both. Throughout the performance we hear snippets of recording as Tim explains his seemingly benign childhood, when and how his behaviour changed and the impact it had, culminating in a breakdown at the dinner table one night and his mother sending him off to the doctors. Tim is quickly prescribed anti-depressants with little information, let alone anything about the side effects they will have, and remains on these for six years, covertly, before meeting Bryony.

It was a powerful performance, punctuated with humour, dance, song, interesting head wear and the kind of raw emotion rarely seen these days because it was real, it was happening and it is there. And this rawness connected the audience, an almost tangible sense of acceptance and understanding because let’s face it, depression is not something most people can, like or will talk about – it’s best kept in a box. Open it we say.

To help celebrate Mental Health Week in South Australia, Mindshare hosted “HeadRead” on Wednesday night for the entrants and winners of their recent “When Words Come to Life” poetry competition to perform some of their work.

 

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The evening was brilliantly compered by Jude Aquilina, a wonderful poet who has published several fantastic collections and Nina Pearce, an MHCSA administrator who has been working tirelessly to help coordinate events throughout the week.

I was the second to read, and managed to do so with confidence and without issue!  I read alongside new and established poets, some with very poignant stories to tell, but all demonstrating a battle with the self and the impact of an unhealthy state of mind.  The whole experience felt almost cathartic, a real sense of opening up and removing the mask that some are better maintaining than others.  This took courage, and I felt privileged to be a part of it.

The session finished with showing the films of the winning entries (lookout for a little black dog, images courtesy of wonderful artist Fran Sherman).  All were very different, a beautiful kaleidoscope of images and words, again with some  very powerful moments that left an imprint long after the screen went dark, like closing your eyes on the sun.

It felt good to read my work, and to network, and share and listen, definitely an aspect to help maintain my own poetic mental health, and one that will almost certainly provide inspiration for future pieces.

And today is World Mental Health Day!  So take some time out to check in on your current state and make that mental health promise to yourself now.  It can be as easy as just taking the time to look after yourself, which could be getting more sleep, regular exercise, eating healthier meals but essentially, do whatever makes you happy.

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Mental Health Week in South Australia starts on 5 October and there are a range of events to get involved in across the State – breakfasts, book launches, walks and even “Odd Socks Day”, to promote the fact that we all have “odd” days!

 

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The week is organised by the Mental Health Coalition for South Australia (MHCSA) and will begin with a balloon launch to symbolise the “letting go” of the stigma still associated with this often invisible condition, with the purpose of the week being to raise awareness of the impact it can have on the daily lives of people, their family and carers.

Mindshare are helping to host the creative events, which include “HeadRead” taking place on Wednesday 8 October at the Coffee Pot on Rundle Mall, where entrants and winners of their recent “When Words Come to Life” Poetry Competition will perform some of their work alongside the short films based on the eight winning poems.

I have selected 3 pieces to read for the event, as my winning poem will be heard during the film I helped to create.  These poems convey a variety of states in respect of the delicate balancing act of the self with its mental well-being. This will actually only be the third poetry performance I have ever done, but I am very aware of the public profile poets require today, even if they do prefer privacy and solitude!  So I will get in some practice and keep my eyes open for further opportunities to “speak” rather than just write my work.

After a lull in creativity, I was thrilled to learn that I am one of eight category winners in the above competition recently run by Mindshare. The prize is turning your poem into a digital film (you may recall I won something similar with Mindshare last year so they must like my style!).

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So last weekend I attended a workshop working with a small production team to storyboard my poem and develop it into a short film. We explored elements of image, music, breath and movement, and the place you have to get to when reading your piece aloud. This was new to me as ‘speaking’ my work is not something I often do (and when I do it’s to myself), but it made me focus on exactly what I wanted to convey. Something else new was working on an Apple Mac! Being a Windows-based girl this required quite a bit of patience and time (and not just mine!), so I am very thankful to the Mindshare team, Tracey Davies and Mona Khizam, and also to the wonderful illustrator Fran Sherman who produced all the images for my piece.

The films will be aired to the public during Mental Health Week 5-11 October, and I for one can’t wait to see the final cuts!

 

I have recently received a copy of an anthology containing my latest publication.  Memory Weaving, published by Poetica Christi Press and edited by Carolyn Vimpani, is a thought-provoking collection of dementia journeys that describes the loss of a person to this debilitating disease.

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There are poems about anger, confusion, love, grief, acceptance, sometimes humour and surprise, all of which have been thoughtfully grouped together under one of three headings – frayed at the edges, unravelled and threadbare – to denote the gradual lessening of the self to dementia.

The call for submissions was sponsored by Manningham City Council to promote awareness within their community of those living with dementia, their families and carers. To purchase a copy of the anthology contact the publisher directly, otherwise here is my poem to give you a sneak peak between the covers…

Visiting hours

 

Her hands don’t belong here

bewildered starfish beached on the table.

She wants to put them away

with the napkins and knives.

 

When the doorbell rings she answers the fridge

confused and then thrilled

to see her teeth grinning back.

 

She thought it’d be her daughter

nods polite to the woman who’s stolen her name.

 

Later she remembers the time

shuffles in slippers to find it again.

            Copyright © J V Birch 2013