Connecting to the stress-relieving power of poetry

london group poemIt’s great news to hear that the connection between poetry and mental wellbeing is being highlighted, thanks to the launch of ReLit and their anthology Stressed Unstressed, a volume of 150 poems selected to ease the mind and provide solace in troubling situations. Amongst those who have identified poems that have helped them to cope during times of stress are Melvyn Bragg, Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry.

The members of our Shared Reading groups are experiencing the power as well as the pleasure of poetry on a weekly basis, from community groups in libraries to patients on mental health wards and prisoners in high-security units. Reading poetry aloud as a group gives people access to powerful language, thoughts and feelings about what it is to be human, and in experiencing these complex meanings with others they can start to build – or rebuild – a better understanding of themselves and the world. Whichever way someone is struggling – on a particular day, week or on a longer-term basis – a poem can help to reach out on a personal, emotional level.

The best way to feel what a poem is and can do is to read it, with other people.

Take, for instance, the women at HMP Low Newton who read Mattresses by Jean Sprackland:

Mattresses talks about everyone’s life but has a darkness that resonates with the women reading here. On the first reading one woman can’t hear the mattress but only a tale of a broken woman, lost and discarded. The others listen politely, sensitively, but then the group move on, back to the text, and the talk returns to mattresses, how they are an ‘archive’ of the everyday and everybody. The same woman’s expression changes to one of surprise: the idea that there could be other things to the poem, any poem, than what struck her at first reading is a genuinely new one. Another, deeper, insight follows: “I saw me”. What had been evident to everyone else in the room startles this woman to a laugh, and you can see her visibly awaken to new insights about herself and the potential of poetry.”

Or a group member on a mental health ward in Manchester, who found comfort in I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by Wordsworth:

“On the morning of the group, he was on a 2:1 because he was ‘punching out and shouting at the staff’. He came in to the group, sat down and his focus was completely on the poem throughout. He was calm, reflective, and had read the whole of the poem aloud in a wonderfully clear voice. We were talking about places that we can remember that made us happy, and he told the story of going on picnics with his Mum, Dad and sister.  By the end of the group, he only had one staff member with him, and showed no signs of aggression, upset, or distress.”

group 1A great amount of the literature we use in Shared Reading groups deals with difficult subjects, evoking distress and often painful memories that do not seem on the surface designed to comfort or put the group member’s mind at ease. However below the surface different emotions rise up, showing how we sometimes need what is difficult to break through to the deeper part of us.

“We were reading war poetry and as I read John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields Ivy shifted in her seat, and I could tell before I finished the poem that she wanted to speak. One memory in particular, translated through the poetry, brought tears to her eyes as she shared it with the group:

‘I remember once I walked in on my Father as he was changing his shirt ready to go out with Mother. He shouted ‘Don’t come in, I’ll be down in a minute’, but it was too late, I had seen his side and there was a great hole there. I ran down the stairs to Mother crying and said ‘What happened to Dad? Did he fall down the stairs? And she said, ‘No love, that is a war wound’. I remember I was so upset.’

Her emotion at recalling the story of the wound demonstrated why, even though it took place when she was very young, this was an event which shaped her and has stayed with her over the years. I asked her if she was okay, if she was happy to continue reading the poems and she replied ‘Oh yes, I like them.’ When we read next Now to be still and rest, while the heart remembers by P.H.B. Lyon, she smiled and nodded and was keen to point out, ‘We celebrate every year, we never forget.’ “

Our research with partners CRILS at the University of Liverpool further demonstrates how reading poetry aloud can have powerful effects on people across all ages, backgrounds and life situations, from those living with dementia for whom poetry can stimulate emotional experiences in the present as well as rememberance and help to improve mood, to encouraging better social, emotional and psychological wellbeing amongst female prisoners. The shared reading of poems and literature has the effect of creating bonds and friendships, which our research has found contributes to a more positive outlook on life.

As the year is still fresh, here’s to more poetry, less stress and loneliness – and in reading together, sharing the comfort that comes from great literature on a wider scale.

On Active Service: 1914-1918

On Active Service coverTo commemorate the centenary of the start of World War One, The Reader Organisation has published an anthology of poems collected from the ‘Great War’, showcasing the extraordinary experiences of ordinary people during the course of war as it happened.

‘On Active Service: 1914-1918’ features a selection of poems that emerged from WW1, chosen and edited by Brian Nellist, co-editor of The Reader magazine and a guiding force of literary spirit for The Reader Organisation. As well as including ‘famous’ names typically associated with the Great War such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke, the anthology features poems written by less well-known poets – in fact, some selections so rare that they required a considerable effort to be tracked down. By including the work of these poets, the anthology helps in ensuring that the experiences of generations now passed will live on for years to come, in their own words.

Instead of being categorised by year, the poems have been compiled by themes widely felt by those fighting in WW1, both on and off the battlefield. The backdrop of war inspired the moving, poignant and, at times, grimly humorous words of the verses included, presenting a full portrait of the lives that were irrevocably changed.

On Active Service 1On Active Service was launched this morning – Armistice Day – at a special event for our shared reading group members at Calderstones Mansion House. Following a commemorative two-minute silence, a selection of poems from the book were read by members of TRO staff, along with a moving historical account of Liverpool and its Pals Battalion who enlisted in their thousands at the advent of WW1, many believing they would be home for Christmas and who would not see a Christmas again afterwards.

There were also tours of the Mansion House which operated during WW1, and a Trench Cake baked to the original recipe from housewives who sent the fare out to their husbands and family members in the post to the Front. It went down so well that it was just as well we had recipes on hand to distribute!

On Active Service will be read in our shared reading groups across the breadth of the UK this week as commemorations for remembrance continue, with the poems read aloud and thoughts shared. You can reflect upon the verses for years to come by purchasing your copy from The Reader Organisation’s website, for the price of £6:


At the weekend, we let you know about the arrival of Issue 55 of The Reader, featuring contributions from Maxine Peake, Howard Jacobson and David Constantine. We’re pleased to say that technical issues have now been resolved, and you can order your copy of all the latest Readerly goodness online now:

The Reader Organisation in Inside Time: An inside view of shared reading

inside timeThe Reader Organisation’s activity in Criminal Justice settings is expanding all the time, with regular shared reading groups being delivered in prisons, secure hospitals and offenders institutes throughout the UK each week providing opportunities to reform, rehabilitate and reduce reoffending through the reading of great literature in a safe environment. Not only does the use of shared reading in secure environments create a foundation for a collaborative approach to reducing criminal behaviour, it allows the space for offenders and ex-offenders to transform their attitudes, thinking and behaviour through a medium that has a direct personal impact as well as helping to contribute to stronger and safer societies in the long run.

Our work sharing reading within Criminal Justice settings is highlighted in Inside Time, the national monthly newspaper for prisoners in the UK. Inside Time creates a ‘voice’ for its readership – currently standing at an estimated 50,000 – providing articles and comments that seek to be informative, interesting and entertaining, and a key link to the outside world for its readers as well as connecting them with their family and friends. Amongst its contributions is cultural content including  a regular poetry slot, which has produced 5 volumes of the Inside Poetry publication.

Each month in the paper, a member of TRO’s Criminal Justice team provide an insight into a shared reading group session that has taken place through a poem or extract from a short story and a snapshot of the discussion that has accompanied the piece of literature. Always interesting and often revealing, the columns show how vital great literature is as a sounding board, connector between people, thoughts and emotions – and in many situations, as a lifeline.

Here on The Reader Online we’ll be regularly featuring the TRO Inside Time articles on a monthly basis, bringing you our latest column hot off the press and giving you a closer view of shared reading in secure settings. To begin the feature, we’re visiting a piece from the archives, originally published in September 2013. Wigan Project Worker Val Hannan takes us into a session at her group in Hindley YOI (funded by Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust), where the group shared the poem Making a Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye.

We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.

—Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

– Reprinted from Tender Spot: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2008) by Naomi Shihab Nye, with kind permission of the poet

After I’ve read, the group take turns reading a stanza each. We begin with the epigraph: ‘We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.’

‘It’s strange,’ says C, ‘intriguing’.

‘It’s basically saying that everyone’s going to die’ says T.

C continues: ‘Some of us are alive but some of us are dead and we’re all going down the same path – we’re alive but we’re all dying.’

Suddenly F repeats the last stanza: ‘‘I who did not die, who am still living…/clenching and opening one small hand’ – This is me. It’s about me. It’s how I feel. I look at my hand – I always do that.’ F holds his fist up. ‘What’s that on my hand? Have I got blood on my hand? These thoughts are always at the back of my head.’

Lady Macbeth’s anguish is vivid in my mind.

‘It wasn’t premeditated,” offers T, seeking to comfort. Others nod, faces showing sympathy.

F says he is fine; he wants to continue.

We look at the first stanza.

‘What could the drum be?’ I ask.

‘It’s his pulse or heart beat getting slower,’ says T.

‘The narrator is only seven at this point – what about that?’

‘He’s getting scared and getting further away from home – going somewhere he doesn’t know,’ says C.

‘It could be about fate,’ says T. ‘He’s leaving his soul or one life behind.’

I ask about the image used to describe how the person felt: ‘My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.’

‘When I first came down to jail, I felt like that,’ says M. ‘My stomach had gone, I was only 12.’

I ask about the lines: ‘When you can no longer make a fist’?

‘This is when you can’t move, when you don’t have any strength.’

‘It makes me think of when you’re in your cell,’ says, C, ‘and you want to get out and you pound the bed and walls in anger and you can’t do anything and then you just get really weak and end up crying with the anger.’

They all agree with this and talk about how they often feel there is no release for their pent-up anger and frustration.

I ask about the image of the journey and why the ‘backseat’?

‘It could be the journey of life,’ says T.

‘It’s life as a car journey,’ says M.

‘But why the backseat?’

‘The back is in the past. The front seat is moving forward but you’re in the back seat of life when you don’t know what’s going to happen,’ says C.

‘What about borders – what could they be?’

‘It could be death – the border between life and death,’ says T.

‘Past and future,’ says M. ‘Childhood to being an adult.’

We focus on the final image: ‘clenching and opening one small hand.’

‘It’s your pulse, a heartbeat,’ says M.

‘It’s like stress,’ says F, ‘when you have to keep opening and closing your hand. I do it all the time.’

We discuss how our thoughts control the way we feel and conclude the worst prison is not a physical one, but the one we make for ourselves in our own mind.

You can find Inside Time on the web here:

Find out more about The Reader Organisation’s work in Criminal Justice settings, alongside Reader Stories from readers in various secure settings, on our website:

Happy Poetry at Work Day!

dementia 1Did you know that today is the second annual Poetry at Work Day? Certainly a fact to cheer up a rather chilly Tuesday in January and make your day at work a little bit different by taking some time for a poem or two, or maybe even more.

Here at The Reader Organisation, you may not be surprised to know that poetry is part of every working day, not just for our Project Workers around the UK who share and read poems aloud in our weekly shared reading groups or on our courses where we are turning more people into shared reading practitioners, but in our offices too. Great literature truly is at the heart of all we do, and we make sure that we never lose sight of the power of poetry to bring some clarity, creativity and peace of mind within our busy working days as each team starts every one of their weekly team meetings with a poem. The most recent poem read in the Communications and Development Team meeting was Begin by Brendan Kennelly, appropriate for the still new beginning of the year and with an inspiring message to begin each of our days, working or otherwise:

Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.

Poetry at Work Day is spearheaded by Tweetspeak, who believe in the creative potential of poetry in the workplace – a key factor considering that a recent survey by IBM of 1,500 CEOs reported that creativity was the top quality they looked for in leadership and the ability to take businesses into the future.

There’s also the matter of poetry providing you with a new perspective, making you think differently about topics relating to work and life in general and giving you a chance to go to another place for a while throughout your working day. So for Poetry at Work Day 2014 why not swap your spreadsheets and emails for a poem instead, and share the benefits of a good poem with your work colleagues? We’ve got a wealth of material to get you started right here on The Reader Online with our bulging Featured Poem Archive.

Do you read poetry at work regularly? Have you got a favourite verse that gets you through the work day? Why not tweet us with your selection, or use the hashtag #PoetryatWork

Poets Walk The Line to support The Reader Organisation

This October four poets – Gaia Holmes, Julia Deakin, William Thirsk-Gaskill and Michael Stewart – took on the challenge of tracing the 47 mile trail of the Stanza Stones, commissioned by Ilkley Literature Festival and created by Simon Armitage, on their one year anniversary. The trek, called Walking The Line, proved to be inspiring, eye-opening and gruelling in equal measure, and The Reader Organisation was honoured that such a thoroughly literary journey supported our work. The fifth ‘member’ of the group was one of Simon Armitage’s socks, used to fundraise along the way and we’re happy to announce that the group raised over £100 to support our outreach work.

The Walking The Line poets on the Stanza Stones trail (c. Michael Stewart)
The Walking The Line poets on the Stanza Stones trail (c. Michael Stewart)

One of the Walking The Line poets, Michael Stewart, joined us for our Reading in Secure Environments (RISE) project last year, visiting HMP Low Newton to read to some of the women there. Michael chose to put forward The Reader Organisation as Walking The Line’s chosen charity as he was ‘deeply affected’ by his visit as part of RISE. Watch the video charting the first year of RISE, featuring participating authors, on our website.

Michael also blogged about the Walking The Line experience and with kind permission, his blog has been reproduced below.

On behalf of all of us at The Reader Organisation, we’d like to extend a huge congratulations and thank you to the Walking The Line team for their heroic and poetic efforts.

From Michael Stewart: ‘Walking The Line: Over and Out’

We launched the event in the Riverhead Tavern in Marsden on Thursday 17th of October, at 7.30pm. In attendance was a small but appreciative audience, that included a 67 year old wild camper from Stockton-on-Tees who is originally from Scotland, called Freddie Phillips. He had brought his tent, sleeping bag and stove on his back, and was going to walk the entire 47 miles with us over the three days, wild camping along the way. I’ve got to know Freddie along the journey, and he is an amiable chap and an inspiration to us all. Also joining us, the tattooed poet from Wigan and fellow Grist writer, Matt O’Brien; and Angela Varley (another Grist poet), who brought homemade flapjack and a bottle of brandy, to sustain us on our journey. We collected £27.20 in Simon’s sock.

The next morning, we set off from the New Inn, meeting up with Winston Plowes, another writer, but also a children’s entertainer and narrow boat resident. We walked along the canal towpath a short distance, then began the ascent of Pule Hill, passing the memorial cross on the way. There were no views of Marsden, as promised, only a thick blanket of fog. In the quarry, we found the first stone: SNOW. We read the poem out-loud, then chatted about it. I said I thought the line about the ‘unnatural pheasant’ was a political line, and we discussed the effect of grouse shooting and how much the landed gentry paid for the privilege of shooting these birds and other game birds. We talked about the illegal practice of shooting raptors and corvids.

Later, we joined the Pennine Way and walked across the scarily high bridge over the M62. All these years of travelling along the motorway by car had given me one perspective of the landscape, now I was having to re-adjust, as I took in a completely different one. We trekked across Blackstone Edge, where in 1846 there had been a gathering of 30,000 thousand, who had come to listen to the Chartist, Ernest Jones. We dropped down and stopped at the White House pub.

There we were joined by Andrew Moorhouse, publisher of the beautiful limited edition book, In Memory Of Water. The book features the stanza stones poems, together with specially commissioned wood engravings by Hilary Paynter (for more information about the book, see here: We were also joined by an Otley Morris dancer and her family.

We had a bite to eat, then set off on our way again. Not far from the pub, we encountered the second stone: RAIN. This is the most prominent off all the poems, carved directly into the rock face. On sunny days, the letters shine and twinkle, with the quartz crystals embedded in the coarse gritstone. This was not a sunny day. The iron in the stone has oxidised, giving the letters a lovely orange glow. We talked about the military language in the poem, ‘sea-bullet’, ‘air-lifted’, ‘strafes’, and how this was a theme throughout the collection. Almost as though Simon was turning these reflections on nature, into war poems: man against the elements.

We arrived in Hebden 18.6 miles later, a bit bedraggled but elated. That night we read in front of a packed audience at Hebden Bridge Library. The library had done a brilliant job of publicising the event, and we were very grateful to receive such warm hospitality. We collected £71 in Simon’s sock. We celebrated by downing a few real ales in the White Lion pub. Then, at midnight, we left Freddie in a torrent of rain, as he went to hunt for a wild space to camp for the night.

The next morning we met six new walkers outside the Nutclough Tavern and walked through Nutclough Wood. We began a steep climb up the hill. Here, disaster struck, as Gaia sustained a serious back injury which left her in absolute agony, and with great regret, had to be escorted back down the hill. We carried on, joining the Calderdale Way. We traipsed across the moor, disturbing some irritated-sounding grouse, until we dropped down into Lowe Farm, with its turreted tower.

We walked across a lovely old bridge over Luddenden Brook. I’d been speaking to Andrew Moorhouse the day before about the secret stanza stone, that no one had found. He told me it had been set in the side of Luddenden Brook, but almost immediately, there had been a flood, and the stone had been washed away, making it now hidden from all. I learned that the stone was carved with the apposite phrase, ‘in memory of water’.

A few miles later, past Warley Moor Reservoir, we came across the third stone: MIST. This is perhaps, with the exception of the secret stone, the hardest to find. It is concealed beneath a sandstone quarry. The stone the poem has been carved into had started out in one piece but split down the middle during the carving. Adding further poignancy to the mutability of the landscape and the fraught task of carving the stones themselves. We greatly admired Pip Hall’s work. The work of a stone carver is perhaps one of the few, where not a single mistake is permitted.

We carried on past Thornton Moor Reservoir and then down for lunch in the Dog and Gun pub. Here we were joined by another group which included the writer Leonora Rustamova, in tight lycra shorts. That night we read in the Brown Cow pub in Bingley. The audience was a very select one, and we competed with the rock band playing covers downstairs. In the audience was writer Char March, who read some of her own work, after we had finished, and really made the event memorable. We collected £10 in Simon’s sock.

The next day, we set off from Bingley station, joining a group of over a dozen walkers and writers, including the novelist and short story writer, Simon Crump, who was dressed in a vintage tweed suit, a tweed flat cap and was carrying two pints of milk and a bottle of rum. We walked along the canal, past the impressive construction of the Bingley Five Rise Locks. We passed some clay pigeon shooters who tried to kidnap Simon for their mascot, and into the rather spooky entrance of Rivock Forest. The forest is very atmospheric and put me in mind of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. I half expected to come across a gingerbread house, but instead, we encountered the next stone: DEW. In fact, DEW is carved into two stones. We discussed again, the use of military imagery in the poem, ‘fuse-wire’, ‘tapers’, ‘primed mortar’, ‘tinder’, ‘trigger’, ‘march’, ‘ranks’, ‘barbed-wire fence’, ‘flags’, ‘surrender’. And argued about whether we wanted to replace the ‘stoat’ with a ‘rat’ instead. We concluded that ‘stoat’ was the right choice after all.

We traipsed across Rombalds Moor to the PUDDLE stone. Or rather, two stones. These stones were reclaimed from an industrial site near Bolton. They had been part of a mill floor but now set free from industry to enjoy the freedom of the heath. There are still marks on the stone, from where iron machinery was fixed to them. The conflict in this poem is of a different type. Instead of man versus the elements, here we have two natural forces competing with each other: the Atlantic sea and the Yorkshire landscape.

At the Twelve Apostles stone circle we were met by another dozen or so walkers, making our party now a merry band of 35 people. We walked with them over Ilkley Moor, to the final stone: BECK ‘Where the water unbinds and hangs over the waterfall’s face, and just for that one stretched white moment becomes lace.’

Later on, we did our final reading at Ilkley Literature Festival’s last night in St Margaret’s Hall. We collected £11.16 in Simon’s sock. Making a grand total of £119.36.

We’d done it. We had survived the experience and arrived at our final destination a little damp and dishevelled, but triumphant. We parted company with hugs and handshakes. It had been emotional.

Thanks goes to all those writers and walkers that joined us on our way and the audiences at each event. Thanks also to the ‘sherpas’ who ferried our books and chattels to the various venues. These were: Stephen Weeks, Lisa Singleton, Sean Bamforth, David Gill and Paul Bose. A special thanks to Freddie Phillips, for joining us the whole distance, and going one further with his wild camping. You put us to shame – here’s tae ye!

This event would not have been possible without the support of The University of Huddersfield, The Arts Council and The Ilkley Literature Festival – and we remain forever indebted to you all.

Read more from Michael on his blog:

Celebrating Global Dignity Day with shared reading

globaldignityWednesday 16th October marked the 6th Annual Global Dignity Day, highlighting the importance and fundamental right of every human being to live a dignified life. This year’s Global Dignity Day was celebrated in over 50 countries across the world including the UK, where the Global Dignity Day movement was led by Just For Kids Law, another organisation led by an Ashoka UK Fellow.

The Reader Organisation partnered with Just For Kids Law to mark Global Dignity Day 2013 in the UK. Throughout Global Dignity Week (14th-18th October) each of our shared reading Project Workers chose a piece of prose of poetry that touched upon the concept of dignity and shared reading and discussion with their group members about what dignity means to them individually. We have found in our weekly shared reading groups that great literature represents the spectrum of human condition and emotion, with the matter of dignity being a significant part of this.

From a wide range of shared reading groups across the country, our facilitators fed back to us about the literature they chose and their groups’ subsequent discussions of dignity. Here is a selection offering a snapshot of how our groups across the UK celebrated Dignity Week:

Poem: Affinity by R.S. Thomas, read in chronic pain setting

“The group took some time to think what the man in the poem might be up to, after which one member simply repeated the words ‘furrow by furrow’ joined by another echoing back to ‘Without joy, without sorrow’ in answer. We talked a lot about what it might mean to live this way, with someone offering in response, ‘if you’re not feeling you’re not alive…’ This troubled us, particularly when considering the lines: ‘A vague somnambulist: but hold your tears/For his name also is written in the Book of Life’.

One lady ventured, ‘a life is like a page in a book’, which got us thinking about whether any one life was better than another and if anyone ever really stood in isolation, though it can certainly feel that way at times.”

books and tea reading circlePoem: If by Rudyard Kipling, read in an acute psychiatric ward

“It seemed as if every line had something that caught someone’s imagination. Perhaps most poignantly, the idea of seeing everything you’ve lived for breaking down was very real for many on the ward. And the staff member identified with ‘Keeping your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.’

‘And walk with kings, nor lose the common touch’ appealed to one lady strongly. ‘That’s about remembering where you’ve come from.’ Recognising Triumph and Disaster as impostors also made us think. ‘You do your best, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.’ And we wondered if Kipling would have ended it differently nowadays: ‘You’ll be a human being my son’ rather than ‘You’ll be a man…’.  Or, ‘You’ll have it cracked!’

Normally our session ends at 12 for lunch, but today the ladies let the food go cold, and we ran over for a quarter of an hour. One young woman took a copy of the poem to put in a memory box she was making for her son.”

Poem: Invictus by William Ernest Henley, read in Criminal Justice setting

Someone notes that all the last lines of each verse are positive: ’unconquerable soul’, ‘bloody but unbowed’, ‘shall find me unafraid’, ‘captain of my soul’. We read the last lines of each stanza as a little poem of its own.  Then someone says ‘that’s about dignity’.

L says she really likes the last two lines – everyone agrees – she says it seems to be about us being powerful or in control.  It fits with the unconquerable bit.  Even though he’s bludgeoned and bloody he’s unbowed.”

Such discussions are just a few examples of what proved to be a thought-provoking and inspiring week, that gave us much to consider about the concept of dignity in all its forms.

Though Global Dignity Week has passed, there’s always time to reflect and think about what dignity means to each of us in our lives – especially through literature. Take a read of one poem that can be considered to reflect significantly on one man’s sense of personal dignity, I Am by John Clare.

You can also find out about the wider celebrations of Global Dignity Day in the UK on the Just For Kids Law website, including two specially composed original poems for Global Dignity Day 2013 by Francesca Beard and Josh Solnick.

Featured Poem: The Glory of Autumn by Isaac McLellan

I don’t know about you, but I think Autumn is the best time of the year. Yesterday, I went on a lovely walk through Sefton park, and realised  that Autumn 2013 has well and truly arrived. The beautiful leaves, rich in colour were spread all over the ground, and even more importantly, I spotted my first Conker of the year!

This got me thinking about how for some reason, Autumn has a feel to it, maybe even a smell to it, that always reminds me of my childhood; of wellies, scarves and competitive games of Conkers.

I then wondered what Autumn might mean to others, is it a special season for you or do you dread the dark evenings drawing in and the cold, rainy days?

After my lovely afternoon surrounded by the Autumn leaves and thinking about what Autumn might mean to individuals, I wanted to add a special poem about Autumn for today’s Featured poem. It’s called The Glory of Autumn, by Isaac McLellen and it celebrates and describes with some beautiful, evocative language, what I think is the most stunning, atmospheric season.


The generous autumn days are come,
The merriest of the year,
With dewy morns and rosy eves,
And harvest moonlight clear;
The hoar-frost shineth thin and white
O’er mountain and o’er plain;
It gems the faded grass
And the stubble of the grain.

What time the day-dawn flecks the east,
A gauzy, filmy veil
Floats o’er the crystal river,
In the hollow of the vale.
The bearded oats, the juicy wheat,
Have all been gather’d in,
The latest crispy husk of corn
Is garner’d in the bin.

The apples of the orchard,
Red with the sun’s caress,
Enrich the farmer’s cellars
Or feed the cider-press.
Now is the season’s carnival,
The fête-time of the year,
When the blithe October breezes
Blow bracingly and clear.

When husking frolics in the barn,
Or the flooding broad moonlight,
Prolong with jocund dance and song
The watches of the night.
For all the toil of seed-time
And the harvest now are o’er,
Save where the flail resoundeth
On the busy threshing-floor.

Now when the genial breezes
Sweep through the fading wood,
Tossing the scarlet maples,
And the oak leaves many-hued;
Ere dawns the day o’er hill and lawn,
The sportsman takes his way
To upland moor, or woodland haunts,
Or open breezy bay.

The outlying deer are now afoot,
To browse the dew-wet grass,
Or pause to taste the crystal brook,
And lakelet clear as glass;
The brown quail in the cedar copse
Leads forth her hungry brood.
The partridge whirs through open glade,
Or through the hemlock wood.

Now o’er the salt and sedgy marsh,
Where bends the rustling reed,
The piper and the plover
On the briny shallows feed.
The black-duck and the widgeon
Are swimming in the bay,
The geese and brant in black platoons
Defile their long array.

It is the sportsman’s festival,
The year’s most glorious time,
When the dahlia and the aster
Are in their golden prime,
When the rainbow-painted forests
Are resplendently aflame,
When every healthful breath we draw
Adds vigor to the frame.

The sweetest of our Northern bards
Hath sung in mournful lay
Of the dreary time of autumn–
Of the “sad” October day.
But methinks the changeful glories,
The sport, the harvest cheer,
Make the autumnal season
The brightest of the year.

Isaac McLellan

National Poetry Day 2013: Water, water everywhere…

national poerty day 2013It’s one of our favourite days here at The Reader OrganisationNational Poetry Day. Of course, we love to read and share poems every day of the year in our Get Into Reading groups, through The Reader magazine, our anthologies and much more, but we’re particularly excited to enjoy this nationwide celebration of poetry for everyone, everywhere.

This year’s National Poetry Day promises to be bigger than ever, with lots of exciting events taking poetry out onto the streets and even onto the London Underground – see a full list of events and find out if there’s something happening near you on the NPD website.

There’s no reason not to celebrate even if you aren’t near an event, as all you need to do is find a poem and read it aloud, passing the experience on to those around you. What better way could there be to commemorate National Poetry Day than by simply sharing a piece of poetry with someone you care about? This year’s theme for NPD is ‘water, water everywhere’ – a well-tread subject in the world of poetry. From lakes, streams and oceans, to boating, raindrops and sea creatures, there’s a wealth of classic and contemporary verses out there to help you get into the spirit of the day.

Here are just a few recommendations of water-themed poems that we’ve enjoyed here at The Reader Organisation:

The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Dover Beach – Matthew Arnold

Sea Fever – John Masefield

From The Wave – Thom Gunn

The Lake Isle of Innisfree – W.B. Yeats

Frozen – Alicia Stubbersfield

Cadenabbia – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Dart – Alice Oswald

Ulysses – Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free – William Wordsworth

And as an extra treat this National Poetry Day, we’re giving you another full-length helping of poetry on The Reader Online from Thomas Hardy. Enjoy the day, and have fun with some wonderful, watery poetry!

Under The Waterfall

Whenever I plunge my arm, like this,
In a basin of water, I never miss
The sweet sharp sense of a fugitive day
Fetched back from its thickening shroud of grey.
Hence the only prime
And real love-rhyme
That I know by heart,
And that leaves no smart,
Is the purl of a little valley fall
About three spans wide and two spans tall
Over a table of solid rock,
And into a scoop of the self-same block;
The purl of a runlet that never ceases
In stir of kingdoms, in wars, in peaces;
With a hollow boiling voice it speaks
And has spoken since hills were turf less peaks.

And why gives this the only prime
Idea to you of a real love-rhyme?
And why does plunging your arm in a bowl
Full of spring water; bring throbs to your soul?

Well, under the fall, in a crease of the stone,
Though precisely where none ever has known,
Jammed darkly, nothing to show how prized,
And by now with its smoothness opalized,
Is a drinking glass:
For, down that pass
My lover and I
Walked under a sky
Of blue with a leaf-wove awning of green,
In the burn of August, to paint the scene,
And we placed our basket of fruit and wine
By the runlet’s rim, where we sat to dine;
And when we had drunk from the glass together,
Arched by the oak-copse from the weather,
I held the vessel to rinse in the fall,
Where it slipped, and it sank, and was past recall,
Though we stooped and plumbed the little abyss
With long bared arms. There the glass still is.
And, as said, if I thrust my arm below
Cold water in a basin or bowl, a throe
From the past awakens a sense of that time,
And the glass we used, and the cascade’s rhyme.
The basin seems the pool, and its edge
The hard smooth face of the brook-side ledge,
And the leafy pattern of china-ware
The hanging plants that were bathing there.

By night, by day, when it shines or lours,
There lies intact that chalice of ours,
And its presence adds to the rhyme of love
Persistently sung by the fall above.
No lip has touched it since his and mine
In turns there from sipped lovers’ wine.

Thomas Hardy


Peter Robinson, Professor of English Literature at the University of Reading, has written a poem to mark the imminent closure of HMP Reading, one of our Criminal Justice settings for Get Into Reading. Released in time for National Poetry Day, Time for Time was composed after Peter visited the group at HMP Reading, the place that inspired Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

You can read Time for Time on the Two Rivers Press website, which is also offering 25% off all poetry titles this National Poetry Day.

Read more about our project at HMP Reading by visiting the South East page of our website.

Volunteers Afternoon Tea

IMG_0694On Wednesday 24th July, many of our excellent volunteers from within the North West gathered together to enjoy a lovely summer’s day afternoon tea at the Lauries Centre in Birkenhead. Also present were many of the people they read with from residential care homes around the region. The event was a perfect opportunity for everyone to mingle outside their reading groups, enjoying sandwiches, cake, and of course, poetry!

The caterers at the Lauries Centre had done a great job of decorating the room in summer attire, each table adorned with a bright yellow sunflower and spring-coloured balloons. Cool jugs of

Anna welcoming the guests
Anna welcoming the guests

refreshing juice were served upon arrival, as well as cups of tea, and the volunteers and group members were able to settle themselves in and enjoy a nice catch up before the activities began.

Anna, our Volunteer Coordinator, gave everybody a warm welcome and kicked things off with a poem. Soon afterwards, the food was served, and the guests were able to enjoy a delightful array of adorably intricate cakes and sandwiches, complete with bowls of crisps and rich platters of delectable fruit (I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on the poetry!).



As everyone ate and talked together, various guests were invited to have a go reading some poetry out loud, bringing the bustling room to a momentary hush at regular intervals. This involved both the volunteers and the group members, and it was really wonderful to see how some of the older residents were keen to take their turn, delivering their chosen poem with enthusiasm and expression. This ongoing combination of good literature and good food made for happy brains and tummies, and naturally everybody was in high spirits.


As the tiers of food gradually IMG_0738got lighter, the guests were given some anthologies, including Emily Browning’s Romantic Poetry and, of course, our very own A Little, Aloud, Poems To Take Home and Minted. The activity of shared reading continued as people volunteered themselves to read aloud from the front of the room. One poem was the famous The Owl and The Pussycat by Edward Lear, which had everybody joining in in a great choral fashion!


"The owl and the pussycat went to sea..."
“The owl and the pussycat went to sea…”

If anything, the afternoon was a wonderful chance to see some of TRO’s volunteers out of their usual role and find out what they love about being a part of The Reader Organisation. Many of them spoke unhesitatingly about the joy and fulfillment they get from volunteering, and the increased insight and awareness it has brought into their lives.

Below are a few of our favourite quotes from the day.

I’ve had parts of my life that have been really bad. But I love life at the moment, and I just want to show other people that a book can bring you a lot of happiness.

Volunteers can tend to feel a bit isolated, but here that’s not the case. It’s impossible to feel isolated when you’re a part of The Reader Organisation.

Their faces light up when we walk in. They look forward to that hour. And when we leave, after being with a group, we feel great ourselves.

It’s been the best move we ever made. Its a marvellous organisation.

I like that when you leave the room, the whole atmosphere is usually very different to when you went in.

I particularly enjoy meeting people who I’d never have come across at any other time in my life. Spending time with them; learning about other sides of life that I knew nothing about.