Watch June Digital Poet-In-Residence Hannah Hodgson read a selection of poems from her new collection, ‘Where I’d Watch Plastic Trees Not Grow’.
Hannah shares the poems on-screen as she reads them, and a transcription of the speech in-between each poem has been provided below for accessibility purposes.
Hello my name is Hannah Hodgson and for the month of June I am the blogger in residence at The Poetry Business. I’m going to be reading you some poems from my most recent pamphlet, Where I’d Watch Plastic Trees Not Grow, and later next year I will be having a pamphlet with The Poetry Business, so if you like what you read or hear I hope you will consider looking out for my future collection.
I’m a poet living with a life-limiting illness which means that I use a hospice and have multi-organ involvement within my disease. I have loads of different diagnoses but I do have one over-arching diagnosis which means that my life expectancy is shortened. And I write a lot about this and the first poem is ‘The Orchard’.
[1.30 Hannah reads ‘The Orchard’]
The next poem comes to you from my six-month hospital stay about five years ago now. I went from being very previously healthy, having a few very very minor chronic things going on in the background to spending six months of my life inside a hospital and having tubes down my throat and so many new experiences that I didn’t recognise the person I became because it was so different to when I went in.
[3.06 Hannah reads ‘Isolation Ward’]
Since that time I have had many many many hospitalisations and that has meant a loss of personhood in some senses, certainly when you begin to feel like a number. The NHS number that they use to identify every single person they treat is ten numbers long and I know mine off by heart, because just like a phone number you say all the time, I have to identify myself to medical professionals in a very quick way, and as opposed to giving my name, date of birth, address, they can just type this number in and it unlocks my medical history for them.
So this sprung from people feeling like they needed to protect me and not tell me things that were going on for them while I was in hospital. Or even once I was out, people felt really minor everyday things – I wouldn’t want to talk about them. But actually when you are seriously ill, that is something you cling to.
[6.03 Hannah reads ‘Dear Visitors’]
As I mentioned at the start my condition is life-limiting and I have had use intermittently of a hospice. And for someone that’s twenty-three I have been around a lot of dying people and know the sounds and how that looks, actually in person. And my writing has been a way to turn something so brutal into an art and also talk about themes I’ve noticed.
[7.50 Hannah reads ‘Death Rattle’]
Something else I’ve noticed as an NHS user is that there is an obscene amount of leaflets for every single condition you can imagine within A&Es and clinics. Not so much since COVID happened, because obviously it requires touch, but I’d imagine they still give them to individual patients. They’ll have a procedure for that surely, because they do contain important information but also things that you don’t expect.
[9.52 Hannah reads ‘Leaflet dispensed by crows who circle around the resus bay like overstated authority figures’]
As I mentioned my over-arching diagnosis is degenerative so as things start to go within me – I’m deaf, that’s why I stutter sometimes and struggle, I’m trying to work out how that word sounds – but these things don’t desert you all at the same time. They leave one by one – and it just – sometimes it can feel like a continuous state of mourning, which is a very sad way to put it. But being left in stages is really hard.
[11.55 Hannah reads ‘Little Deaths’]
The second to last poem I’m going to read explains itself.
[12.53 Hannah reads ‘The only person I knew with my condition’]
I’d like to close on a poem that captures a phenomenon – I’ve never been able to say that word, even before I was deaf – that I’ve noticed since I’ve been ill. So I had this very nerdy, head-down, bottom-of-the-food-chain experience of high school, up until the age of sixteen which was when I had six months in hospital and became ill. And suddenly the Head Teacher knew my name. It was a big school. It was sixteen hundred kids. It was a very – it was a change in experience and a lot of people that gave me grief before I was ill just stopped. And I still get it today. People message me and are like, oh I always thought you were amazing. And I think it’s interesting that when someone’s ill – or even after they die – people rewrite history within their heads to make them feel better about that. Those things that they were involved in, even if they didn’t contribute to the illness …
[15.17 Hannah reads ‘Everybody Loves a Dying Girl’]
Thanks so much for your time if you got to the end and I hope you will be keeping an eye out for the other things that I’ve been doing this month.