Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Questions about love

Pencils and beautiful notepads in hand, performing arts officer Daisy Fancourt and I sanitised our hands and entered the ward.

The idea was that I'd run writing workshops at Chelsea and Westminster hospital on Fulham Road to generate a poem that in its turn inspired a dance.

I realised, as I dodged auxiliary nurses, physiotherapists and the tea trolley, that a workshop was impossible.

But what about the ideas I'd pulled apart and put back together during my retreat cat-sitting in Bath?

This pilot project has been set up by the hospital's arts unit with Rambert dance. Rambert's current show, Labyrinth of Love, is based on love poems by women from Sappho to Anne Carson. So I went with poems about love by women poets - Edna St Vincent Millay, Susan Wicks, Grace Nichols and many others praising mothers, snow monkeys and love itself.

I couldn't separate love from journeys. So when Daisy and I decided I'd work with individuals at their beds, I asked them for journey maps. Any journey would do. When they'd done it, I asked them to fill in the points on that journey they associated with love.

We didn't always get to the love part. Some people were tired, or needed medical attention. But relatives took part too. And I came away with maps of London streets and one that stretched from Cyprus, via Nigeria.

This week Daisy put together a schedule of appointments for me. I sat at peoples' bedsides and this time we talked about the meaning of love. I didn't read poems but I had a line by Jennie Joseph in my own head: "Why are we frightened of the word for love?" In hospital, it seems, the synonym of love is family.

Perhaps talking to a stranger at your bedside about sexual love, about old lovers, about first love is going a step too far (although one man mentioned his first love without prompting). But perhaps, when your health is in doubt the first thing on your mind is where you come from and all that springs from birth and then, maybe, the old questions about love aren't barbed and frantic, but heavier and warmer, like the air.