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  • Writer's pictureRosemary Gemmell

Penned Poetry for Parkinson's

I am delighted to be one of the Scottish and international poets featured in the new anthology, Penned Poetry, which has been put together by author Miller Caldwell in aid of Parkinson’s Research.

We each have around four poems in the book, along with a little about the authors, and I’m truly honoured to be in such company. Of my own poems, two have been published, one was read at an Advent Concert, and one was a regional winner in a national competition. It’s good to see them together in this volume in the knowledge that all proceeds from the sale of Penned Poetry will directly support Parkinson’s UK.

The most remarkable aspect of this collection, however, is that the idea was conceived and brought to fruition by Miller Caldwell, who now suffers from this, so far, incurable disease, along with around 137,000 people in the UK and ten million worldwide. Hopefully, the sale of this poetry collection can add a little towards the necessary funding to provide an eventual cure.

I asked Miller if he could possibly tell us about how the diagnosis of the disease affects his writing in particular, as he already has numerous books to his name, and if it was difficult to put the collection together. He very kindly sent an honest and often humorous response, which follows in his own words – even though the problems with his right hand now make this more difficult and time-consuming!

Miller Caldwell on Parkinson’s, Poetry and Writing

I see red lines under words as my right hand seems to waiver before hitting the wrong key. So I'll have to edit this message when I finish. It's all part of Parkinson's which I now realise has other symptoms too. When walking, I lean forward and my wife, Jocelyn, is always telling me to pull my shoulders back. I was diagnosed last year, in fact about this time last year.

I was spilling soup. That was the first indication things were not right. Jocelyn asked me to see my doctor mid-Covid, and without seeing me he sent me to Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary. I was told it was likely to be Parkinson's but to make sure, I was sent to Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth hospital for a detailed scan. That confirmed the lack of dopamine and hence the diagnosis was right. My immediate thought was I had written my last book.

I read that Parkinson’s Disease is at the cusp of a breakthrough. By 2024 it is expected we will have good news. That's what gave me the idea. I am not a poet but with the aid of a poetry tutor book, I wrote Hiawatha's Soup then a few more poems. I placed them all in book form and asked my friend Hannie, a Dutch poet if she had a poem for me. Not only did she have one, she had many international award-winning poets to call upon and suddenly I was receiving poems from Kyrgyzstan, Siberia, Romania, and Germany. I appealed for more poems on Facebook, including the chronic disability Society of Authors Facebook group. By word of mouth some local poets provided poems.

I was so thrilled with the response, a cut and paste exercise was a joy although a slow, prolonged joy. I had asked each poet to provide four poems, to give a fair representation of their work. Then a further thought struck me. A photo of each poet might draw the reader in, which most authors provided.

A new publisher was brought to my attention by Andrew Goss. City Stone Publishing are getting off the ground and they published the book. They also wished to be associated with the charity so I did not have to pay for production.

I also thought I'd write my memoirs of being an author. I had already, aged 60, written my autobiography in Untied Laces. It has been a slow struggle but Taps Aff an' Taps Oan is almost complete. I wonder if I wrote a book with all the red lines retained, would it be a best seller as it would be very distinctive? A sort of detection book. Detecting my meaning!

Truth is, I get the occasional thought for a book but I feel the effort to get it written is a chapter too far. I’ve written thirty-one books, with four still to be published. They were all written when Parkinson's was something others were afflicted by. I'm at the early stages of the illness. I don't want to think what I'll be like five years down the line but I am content right now. After all, it is not a life ending illness.

Thank you so much Miller for a most inspiring post. Hopefully, your efforts in putting together such an interesting collection in Penned Poetry will achieve its purpose in supporting Parkinson’s Research.

Miller Caldwell is a direct descendant of Robert Burns, and his prolific portfolio of work includes novels, children’s books, biographies, self-help books and film scripts, as well as speaking engagements and music. You can find further details of this remarkable man and his writing on his website.

Penned Poetry is available in e-book and paperback, with all proceeds directly supporting Parkinson’s UK.

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