Arthur Rank Hospice Charity: Workshops for Volunteers

The A Good Death? project aims to improve conversations about death and dying by introducing you to unfamiliar and sometimes challenging literary writing from the past and in the present. We hope to provide some new and fruitful angles and vocabularies and to spark new kinds of reflection.

Thank you for joining us!

In the workshop we will:

  • Read and react to four different pieces of writing, from different time periods and by very different authors in different circumstances.
  • Talk through the pieces reflectively together and compare them to our own experiences, whether from our personal or professional lives.

Our aims are:

  • For us to have fun together and learn from each other by talking about literature
  • For you to leave with some new ideas and some new language, and to be inspired to share these with others
  • For you to take a moment away from your normal work with Arthur Rank to think about what matters to you

What will we read?

1) An extract from a diary written by Audre Lorde (November 10th 1986). You can find this in her wonderful collection A Burst of Light and Other Essays (2006) and can learn more about Lorde here:

2) Alfred Tennyson’s poem, ‘Crossing the Bar’ (1889). You can read this poem, and many others relating to death and bereavement, here:

3) Jacob Polley’s poem, ‘The Prescription’ (from a collection called Little Gods published in 2006). You can read or hear this poem read aloud and discover more about this prize-winning poet here:

4) Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem ‘Burning the Old Year’ (1995). It was published in Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books 1995) but you can read many of her poems, including this one, here:

Why can reading literature about death, dying and bereavement be helpful?

Many reasons!

The brilliant thing about literary writing is that it doesn’t have to follow the rules of logic or ‘make sense’ in the way that, for example, instructions for building flat-pack furniture or news reports do. In literary writing it’s possible to say many things at once and to capture complex ideas, emotions and relationships in ways that don’t over-simplify them. This makes it particularly well-suited to the experiences of, and the challenge of living with, death, dying and bereavement.

Literary writing is also writing that opens up questions and reaches out to the reader’s imagination. It’s active: it creates as well as describes thoughts and feelings and it doesn’t demand that we find one ‘set’ answer within it. It offers us new ways of thinking and a wider vocabulary with which to talk about how we feel about death and grief.

And the activity of reading itself is a kind of meditation. Reading attentively creates a space for self-reflection that can help us all to explore our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs, by showing us perspectives that might well be different from our own. It can also be entertaining, consoling, enraging, funny, and many other things at the same time!

If you are interested to read more about why literature is particularly important right now in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, why not take a look at this article written by one of our team.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and learn from your insights and experiences.

Please leave feedback here.

Did the workshop spark an idea in you?

Which poems did you especially enjoy reading?

Do you think you might want to share one of the poems with a colleague, friend or family member?

Or maybe you have some reading suggestions for us that you’ve found helpful in the past.

Let us know!

You can email us  or reach out on twitter @what_death