28 February 2024

Salisbury Hospital publishes pandemic poetry with readings by Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman

Oscar-winning actress, and patron of The Stars Appeal, Olivia Colman, has read two newly commissioned poems about Salisbury Hospital’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Salisbury NHS Foundation 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.

Now, the Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Colman has read two of the poems including, Fifth Season which 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.

Lizzie and Drum by Harley Sheartsone

The life and work of staff in and 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.

The collection of over 20 poems has been put together in a book with the cover featuring Nurse Priyanka Sharma, who appeared in the BBC Newsnight programme, and was photographed by a former Salisbury Hospital staff member, Monaya Abel.

Stacey Hunter, CEO of Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust commented, “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’s poems resonate with our staff and provide a testament to their resilience.”

David Stratton, Chair of League of Friends, who funded the project, said, “I am very impressed. Some poems are really moving, others insightful and others quite haunting. For those of us who have marvelled at the depth of care that the NHS has given to so many, this anthology gives a glimpse of what life and death is like behind the headlines. The Salisbury Hospital League of Friends has been really pleased and proud to be part of this important work.”

Martin Figura by Harley Shearstone

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 Reflections project was made possible with funding from the League of Friends and The Stars Appeal.

The collection is available to purchase from Salisbury Cathedral Shop and if already visiting the hospital the collection is also on sale at the League of Friends shop at the Main Entrance and to order online here.

Written by
Beth Doherty
View all articles
Written by Beth Doherty