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Attention is drawn to the oral tradition in poetry and some ways in which it differs from written, literary poetry. Some of these differences mirror differences between the oral communication typical of a psychiatric ward nursing handover and the writing-based communication styles of psychiatrists. In particular, the oral tradition tends to involve an interactive and participatory style, stewardship (rather than authorship) of the message, a less linear approach to time and valuing the use of familiar formulae. Neither style is intrinsically superior or inferior. The two styles have significant differences in context, intent and rules (i.e. in linguistic 'pragmatics'). In mental health practice, the apparently shared vocabulary and setting conceals these differences. The fact that these variations are hidden increases the risks of miscommunication and of team splitting. The use of an analogy from poetry is intended to make the differences more explicit, and thus generate awareness, discussion and problem solving.

Original publication




Journal article


J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs

Publication Date





547 - 551


Authorship, Communication Barriers, Continuity of Patient Care, Cooperative Behavior, Folklore, Humans, Literature, Modern, Medicine in Literature, Models, Nursing, Models, Psychological, Patient Care Planning, Patient Care Team, Physician-Nurse Relations, Poetry as Topic, Psychiatric Nursing, Psychiatry, Semantics, Time Perception, Vocabulary, Writing