In September 2017 (international Poetry Day) we were privileged to be asked to design the awards event for poetry event Healing Words. It was the culmination of a competition conducted by The Advocacy Project, in conjunction with Central and North West London NHS Trust, where people suffering with mental health issues were invited to contribute poems about their experience.

 

The poems were judged by a panel including:

Joanna Scanlan, actress and writer

Claire Murdoch, CEO, Central and North West London Mental Health Trust

Alexandra Warwick, Professor of English Literature at the University of Westminster

Melanie Scagliarini, international development worker, blogger and filmmaker

Gill Manly, jazz musician and performer

Our role was to design a way to present the poems – all 320 of them! – within the Map Room venue in City Hall in an engaging and interactive way.

It was an exciting but challenging prospect.

Of all the creative arts, poetry is perhaps the most personal, most revealing and most exposing. How could we design an exhibition of writing which is visually stimulating, and which manages to convey the intensely personal nature of the art form? The space itself was also a challenge – an awkward elliptical shape arranged around a central sculptural form. And of course, being a charitable event, the budget had to be kept to an absolute minimum.

The poems were submitted in various formats – some handwritten, some illustrated, others were set up in Word or other DTP applications, still more were typed directly into emails.

 

We retained the original formats of all the entries, so that the personality and character of the poems and poets were reflected.  There is nothing quite like handwriting to personalise a piece of art, and many of the typeset pieces had been formatted in unique shapes and with very specific spacing and type orientation which we felt really helped to convey the emotional meaning of those poems.

We laid out the poems against a vibrant and optimistic colour palette to balance the moving and at times harrowing nature of the content. They were then printed (by MX Display, working at cost…thanks guys) and mounted onto freestanding dufalyte boards.

The size of the type was also a key consideration for us. We varied the scale so that some poems were easily read from a distance, whereas others were printed smaller, inviting the reader to get closer and become immersed in the writing itself.

This enabled us to to create a visual rhythm across all the boards, and helped to ensure that several people would be able to read each board at any one time, and keep the flow of visitors moving through the display.

Following the event, the boards are now going to be displayed at University of Westminster’s flagship Regent Street Campus, at the Royal Society of Psyciatrists, and at the Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust. The Advocacy Project are exploring the possibility of securing funding to get the poems published in book form – watch this space!

event photography: Phil Wolmuth & Simon Cohen