Friday 14 January 2022

Martin Figura, "My Name is Mercy"


Martin Figura, photograph by Dave Guttridge

Martin Figura’s collection and show Whistle was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award and won the 2013 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Show. Other prizes include the Poetry Society’s 2010 Hamish Canham Prize and runner up in the 2017 RSPB/Rialto Poetry Competition. Shed (Gatehouse Press) and Dr Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine (Cinnamon Press) were both published in 2016 and a new edition of Whistle (Cinnamon Press) in 2018.  The spoken word show Dr Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine, was shortlisted in the 2018 Saboteur Awards. He lives in Norwich with Helen Ivory and sciatica. Together during lockdown, they began hosting Live from The Butchery Zoom readings with leading guest poets, winning the Saboteur Best Regular Spoken Word Night 2021 Award. In 2021, Martin was Salisbury NHS Writer in Residence, resulting in publication in The Guardian, inclusion on the Poetry Archive and a pamphlet with Fair Acre Press. His next full collection As Far as I’m Concerned is due out with Cinnamon Press in 2023. His website is here

About My Name is Mercy
The Salisbury NHS Trust commissioned award-winning poet Martin Figura in March of this year to interview staff from across the Trust, exploring how it felt to be at the frontline of the pandemic response. This has resulted in an emotional collection of poems, titled My Name is Mercy, also the title of a poem based on one of the series of reports that BBC’s Mark Urban produced for the Newsnight programme.  
The life and work of staff in an out of the hospital form the subject matter of the poems, including experiencing Salisbury during lockdown and using horse riding to help cope with the stress and mental challenges of the pandemic, and the poet’s own experience undertaking this project.

Oscar-winning actress, and patron of The Stars Appeal, Olivia Colman, has read two of the newly-commissioned poems. Olivia Colman reads the poem "Fifth Season" that is based on a patient's true story and "Nightshift," which has recently been chosen by Poetry Archive Now as one of the poems of 2021. The poem "Ridge Line," read by the poet Martin Figura, reflects on the very personal experiences of one staff member, Lizzie Swift, and her horse Drum. You can listen to these poems here, here and here
Stacey Hunter, CEO of Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust said: "We all truly have been through an experience like no other in the history of the NHS. The emotional and inspiring poems in My Name is Mercy capture the psychological challenges that our staff faced in working through the pandemic and coping as best they could at work and in their personal lives."
Martin Figura said: "Thank you to everyone who made this project happen. I am especially grateful to those who gave me their time to be interviewed. The lasting impact of the pandemic on their lives was palpable and deeply affecting. I hope the poems go some way towards honouring the experiences and sacrifice of the staff, those they cared for and their loved ones."
The project was made possible with funding from the hospital’s League of Friends and The Stars Appeal charities.
You can see more details about My Name is Mercy on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From My Name is Mercy, by Martin Figura

On Being Interviewed by a Poet

How was it for you, this past year, was it: 

river swimming in lead diving-boots 
or walking in snow, blizzard blind, 
was it the Mojave Desert with an 
empty map, was it a cumbersome 
suitcase and a broken lock, was it 
line-dancing in purple crocs, a flock 
of sea gulls at a chip shop bin, was it 
windowless and continuous, a mouthful 
of salt, was it burning car tyres, pliers 
and teeth, was it blood dripped into milk, 
an alien abduction from a New Forest 
glade, sackcloth, shackles, ashes and shale, 
was it a skeleton clock, a pickaxe, a mule, 
a gilded mirror in flames, was it déjà vu 
after déjà vu, was it Nova Scotia in fall, 
an abandoned mineshaft in Wales, was it 
Easter lilies left to rot, bloodhounds barking 
in a parking lot, was it a cold metal bridle?  

Tell me in your own words was it difficult, 
are you exhausted, what are your hopes, 
what do you do to unwind?  

My Name is Mercy

Morning my darling, my name is Mercy
I'm your nurse for today, how are you?
Today is the nineteenth of January,
the sun is breaking through.

I'm your nurse for today, how are you?
The outlook should be positive,
the sun is breaking through.
Your wife knows you're here, she sends her love.

The outlook should be positive,
you're doing well, you’re safe, you're really safe.
Your wife knows you're here, she sends her love.
Would you like us to phone your wife?

You're doing well, you’re safe, you're really safe,
if you can hear me, squeeze my hand.
Would you like us to phone your wife?
It is difficult, I understand.

If you can hear me, squeeze my hand.
Today is the nineteenth of January,
it is difficult, I understand.
Morning my darling, my name is Mercy

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