Back in the early '90s, I got a job working in a therapeutic community for people experiencing mental health difficulties.

Our role as therapeutic community practitioners was to live in on the project and to engage with community members as a community member.

This is where I acquired the gift of listening in a non-judgemental way and also challenged any issues of mental health. I had to learn to change my gear of life pace and attune myself to the needs of those who have great difficulty in expressing emotions, thoughts or feelings.

Members of the community had been referred to the community practitioners from psychiatric hospital. Most of the community had spent a lengthy period of time in hospital as this was around the time of the introduction of Care in the Community and People First.

The ethos of the community was that of the flattening of the hierarchy, communalism, and non-judgementalism. Staff cleaned, cooked and shopped with community members.

The training that I was offered was second to none. I found myself attracted to group work and on my training I had to identify a project to develop - but as it turned out the community members identified it for me. 

One evening I was in the lounge with others and I was writing an essay for my course on mental health. I weaved into my essay WB Yeats' poem, 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven'.

I had the poetry book beside me and one of the members asked me what I was doing. I told her and she asked if I would recite a poem. I read the Cloths of Heaven.

Other members were amazed at the poem and they asked that I recite another and another. I felt that the poetry was a another language that we all know deep down inside us.

I was moved and asked if we could meet weekly to explore poems and maybe write some ourselves. Everyone agreed and a weekly evening was set in another room far from the TV room so that we wouldn’t be disturbed.

This was the beginning of a very successful poetry group who met weekly.

At that time I was a student of Brother Salvador, a Franciscan monk based in St Joseph’s Pilot street, for spiritual guidance. I discussed the group with him and spoke of my sense of wonder at how poetry spoke to us all. “Poetry is the music of the soul," he said in a response which has remained with me to this day.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.