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My whole life,
I thought I was a quiet crier.
But really I was just in a world louder than myself
telling me I had to be

~ Mohammad Awad from 'Crier'

With a gulp of compliance I cheek the sedative so that I can spend
one more second trying to decipher what they say. 
I am here, now I decide to stay. 
~ Caitlin Kozman from 'Descent'

We are full of worlds that can't be contained by a pill.

MAD Poetry is an initiative that originated in the Illawarra, evolving in 2019 into workshop pilots in Port Kembla and Wollongong supported by the Mental Health Commission of NSW. 2020 saw MAD Poetry find a home at Red Room Poetry coordinated by David Stavanger including physical and online workshops, commissions of established and emerging lived experience poets, and an online showcase.

The key focus of the project is on creating a safe writing space for emerging voices with a lived/living experience of mental health issues to express how they see the world, where these poets can define themselves through their creativity not their diagnosis, and explore by pen and page their experience of illness, institutions, recovery, self-care, and beyond.

MAD Poetry 2020 saw the following activities delivered across Mental Health Month:

  • with the support of Wollongong City Council's Small Cultural Grant program we commissioned new work by six Illawarra writers documenting the lived mental health experience (Tim Heffernan, Helena Fox, Anne-Marie Te Whiu, Christine Anu and Holly Isemonger) and ran a four week MAD Poetry workshop series held at Wollongong City Library Meeting Room facilitated by the following lived experience facilitators and poets: Alise Blayney, Tim Heffernan, Helena Fox, Annie Te Whiu and Lilli Rodrigues-Pang. Eight emerging poets work were also published from these workshops.
  • with the support of Create NSW's Health and Wellbeing Initiative (COVID-19 Quick Response) we were able to also commission new work by another six NSW writers documenting the lived mental health experience (Jonathan Dunk, Kobie Dee, Anthony Mannix, Alise Blayney, Rebecca Rushbrook, and Mohammad Awad). It also enabled us to host four online MAD Poetry Zoom workshops for lived experience consumers, family members/carers, mental health practitioners and for creatives whose mental health had been adversely affected by the pandemic. These workshops were led by Helena Fox, Annie Te Whiu, Lilli Rodrigues-Pang, Gareth Jenkins, and Mohammad Awad.
  • we also hosted a MAD Poetry 2020 online showcase in partnership with the NSW Mental Health Commission - you can watch the video of the showcase below or here

The aim of this project is to share lived experiences of mental health via poetry. Therefore, some of the content may potentially trigger some readers. If you require mental health support or assistance, a list of free confidential 24/7 support lines can be found here. You are not alone in your journey.

MAD Poetry artwork by Rachel Wenona Guy. Logo design by Ogma Creative.

  • Australia Council for the Arts

  • Wollongong City Council

  • Mental Health Commission of NSW