The publication of this new anthology of poems by UK National Health Service (NHS) staff could not have come at a more apposite time. The coronavirus pandemic has made we who live in the UK acutely aware of the vital role of our free health service. Appreciation of the hard work and dedication of its workforce is paramount and sales of the anthology have rocketed. I am privileged to have had two of my poems included so this review cannot be totally unbiased and objective.
These are the Hands is the brainchild of Dr Katie Amiel, GP and the Emergency Poet Deborah Alma, well known for touring the UK in her converted ambulance and prescribing poetry for support and enjoyment. You might wonder if we need yet another anthology that deals with the everyday drama of illness, recovery or death. But this collection is different and refreshing because it gives voice to ‘unseen and unsung’ people in the NHS such as cleaners, library and managerial staff as well as healthcare students and clinicians. It allows those providing nursing and medical care to show us their own vulnerability. The poems are in a variety of forms and voices, often unpredictable but easily accessible and engaging. The Foreword to These are the Hands is by Michael Rosen, well-known writer, broadcaster and poet, whose own poem, written for the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the NHS, gives the anthology its title. He describes the contributors as revealing ‘the hidden places of their minds in these intimate moments’ of clinical and workplace encounters. The final poem is by poet Lemn Sissay titled “Making a Difference”, a performance piece that should be read in a loud voice from every hospital balcony, GP surgery or Care Home doorstep. It is celebratory, life-affirming and splendid, as you might expect from this skilled, outspoken poet.