July 2018 marks 70 years of the National Health Service Act and the NHS. In celebration, acclaimed poet Owen Sheers has produced a new ‘film-poem’ showing twenty-four hours in the NHS, ‘To Provide All People’ – now available to watch on BBC iPlayer. This week’s Friday Poem by Bryony Littlefair, ‘Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant’, also gives us a glimpse inside our healthcare system.
An apology opens this powerful poem, in which a healthcare assistant faces up to a patient’s pre-op fear and resistance: ‘I’m sorry that my sister will not let you take her blood/ for the operation that will save her life.’ Everyday struggles are presented in a stark light: the ‘gulped-down cheese and lettuce/ sandwich’, the intrusive questioning of ‘where it is you’re from originally’.
The politics in Littlefair’s poems are mostly implicit in the stories told, only occasionally bursting through like an urgent message. Giraffe, her Mslexia Prize-winning pamphlet, expertly merges the poet’s wit and wonderful humanity with novelistic qualities and a feminist kick: this is a beguiling, beautiful and entertaining debut.
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