Hospice Poet Phil Isherwood shares his story with BBC Radio Manchester

Hospice Poet Dr Phil Isherwood was recently interviewed about his poetry and work with us here at Bolton Hospice by David Scott on BBC Radio Manchester - reading his poems on travelling and absence.

Here you can read Phil's interview and inspiring words taken from his time on BBC Radio Manchester

Phil Isherwood artwork


Phil Isherwood, Hospice Poet, guest on David Scott’s BBC Radio Manchester show 04/09/2021

“I’m happy to welcome Phil to Upload tonight. Thank you so much for uploading your poetry, I love the way you recite your poem yourself.”

“Yes, I’ve learned to enjoy speaking the inspired stories of people!”

“I imagine it gets a little bit daunting, do you feel any pressure when you turn such personal stories into poetry?”

“It varies tremendously, some I can share, some are quite personal, some patients wanting specific poems guided by them, but for grandchildren, partners, family members or friends just to say thank you and celebrate some memory together.”

“You are known as the Hospice Poet, can you take us back to how this came about?”

“I was a student at the University of Bolton and the hospice asked whether there were any writers available, so I went down just to have a look as it were, and I felt that was the place that I needed to be. Hospices are very cheerful places, people always think it must be very daunting and difficult there, but it isn’t – it’s a lovely place and it’s very inspiring. I just loved the idea of listening to people and taking inspiration from them into a creative piece of work. So they started calling me the ‘Hospice Poet’ after several months, and 10 years plus on and I am still with them!”

“That’s an amazing journey and I’m sure it brings so much comfort to the people who are actually in the hospice and their families as well.  What made you think about turning people’s stories into poetry, had you had an interest in poetry before you became a mature student?”

“Yes, I started writing poetry through writing prayer when I became a Christian and working in a church and realising how much the use of words could help people. So when I went to the hospice, I had already been working with mental illness groups in Prestwich Hospital and working with young men, and I realised just how positive it could be. Just the idea of sharing memories, and this is what the hospice wanted, they were looking for people to help others write theirs down.  There’s a wonderful Creative Therapy department at the hospice doing all sorts of work - memory boxes, art and craft work, people painting things from memories for gifts for people – and when people are at the end of life it’s about collecting of all those memories and cherishing them.  People have a sense of belonging and it’s really important to belong to families, to belong to all sorts of aspect of life, and stories of how that belonging is achieved, we share stories with each other, a sense of who we are as a story. Through different ideas and places, I end up travelling with them, having a walk through their stories, collecting phrases and ideas and turning it into a work of art which reflects them.”

“That’s such a beautiful thing.  I think you refer to Polynesia in the poem you recited earlier?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Do you not find it heavy on you as an artist, I don’t know as I’ve never done anything like this myself, but I imagine it could be quite daunting or draining maybe?”

“It can be, you have to watch yourself, and I obviously get support from the hospice (we have a de-briefing on any difficult conversations), but generally we don’t talk about death, we talk about life, and that reinforces people and helps families – it’s a legacy of memories, which is so so valuable to people.  No one has ever asked you to write a final CV, that’s not what’s important, it is those little memories, those cherished moments that turn up in the poems I write that seems to be of value to patients and their families.  Some of them are used in funerals, people put them in pictures on the wall and decorate them.  It’s a great privilege to do the work and the hospice is a marvellous place of care and kindness - it’s not just about medicine and nursing, far from it, it is the whole package that blesses people that just need that support.”

“I often say to our artists on these shows that it can be very therapeutic or cathartic, but you have also turned these works of art into a podcast now Phil?”

“Yes I’ve started to, it was great to hear about Upload as it’s encouraged me to start doing more! I’ve often done pieces that the hospice has used on their website anyway, but I’ve learned to enjoy sharing the work.  It has been difficult this last lockdown because the inspiration is from the patients and we’ve not been able to have face-to-face activities, but with the new Wellbeing Hub opening up at the hospice, I will be able to go in there to talk to patients again later this month. In the meantime, I have been going through the previous hospice poetry and set up an online Haiku group, using the old poetry to create 3-line memory poems from the back catalogue of hundreds of poems that I have! This has been a challenge for me, and I’ve loved doing it.”

“How did you find the form of Haiku poetry?”

“It’s a lovely way of just catching a memory.”

“Your work has obviously been recognised by the University of Bolton by awarding you a Doctorate.  Can you tell us a little bit more about that?”

“I’ve been studying a Masters Degree in Creative Writing – I was encouraged to carry on, it took me 5 years! I had much support from the University doing that. It was looking at the different ways of writing, collecting and presenting memories, and a lot of it was understanding a thing called the ‘narrative identity’ – our sense of who we are, our sense of self, it’s story-based, so I used that principle (which is psychologically-researched) to then inform how I would collect the memories and present them. Everyone has got something awesome about their lives, something wonderful – nobody, no matter how much they protest, is too ordinary to inspire a wonderful poem! I just take that principle and find these magic moments that people have, that they talk about, and it’s often those little things, small memories that actually inspire the poems.”

Phil read a poem called Absence prompted by #TheDailyHaiku group (over 1,000 members were set the challenge of ‘Absence’ and Phil compiled them all together) You can find Phil on twitter here

“That was great, I loved that Phil! Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story because you are an inspirational individual. Thank you Dr Phil Isherwood, otherwise known as the Hospice Poet.”


You can also listen to the interview online here