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The emergency poet

Deborah Alma, who is also known as the emergency poet, has been prescribing poetry to people in need…

Poetry is one of mankind’s oldest art forms. Since first analysed by Aristotle, poetry has been part of every major art movement and some say it captures emotion better than any other form. Reading poetry has many additional benefits such as improving verbal skills and memory. The common practice of memorising poems also improves long-term brain health. Studies have shown that people who memorise and recall poems are less susceptible to Alzheimer’s. (Matus, 2017)

Poetry can also trigger memories and emotions and encourages the development of empathy.

Deborah Alma, aka the Emergency Poet, began by travelling up and down the country in her 1979 vintage ambulance, prescribing poetry at festival settings, schools, conferences and various other events. The idea being that she could listen to what people have to say and then take them to a lovely place. She has worked with the elderly and has seen how poetry can affect a change in a mood. She would talk to the elderly in small groups or one to one and then write down word for word what they said and then make poems out of it.

It was helpful for the care staff, who were unaware of these stories, to understand that person more. The elderly could then keep their story so they didn’t need to remember it.

Deborah Alma purchased an iron monger’s shop on the Bishop’s Castle high street and now has a Poetry Pharmacy which consists of a workshop and performance space, café, shop and a consultant room where people can go and share their worries. People come in for different reasons including relationship issues, grief and loss, retirement, work stresses, bullying at work, friendship issues and she will provide them with a positive experience rather than proper therapy.

“It’s all about listening to the person and taking them to a lovely place, having them put their feet up, be listened to and being asked questions that are unusual. It feels like when you have an aromatherapy massage. It feels like a treat rather than going to the doctor. And then at the end of the session, they might say I need a poem because my parent died.” (Rennie, 2019)

The poems Deborah prescribes are very positive. She would ask you quite unusual questions, all uplifting questions, intimate without being invasive about how you relax, reading habits, places you might go to relax. At the end of it, she’ll ask them what they would like a poem for and then prescribe them one.

To visit the Poetry Pharmacy or for more information click here.


Matus, D. (2017). The Benefits From Reading Poems. [online] Pen and the Pad. Available at: [Accessed 20 Nov. 2019].

Rennie, J. (2019). ‘Emergency Poet’ at world’s first walk-in poetry pharmacy prescribes caring words. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Nov. 2019].