Radio review: Poet Frank Ormsby on life with Parkinson's Disease

Nuala McCann

The Art of Living Frank Ormsby's Parkinson's

It's not the tremors themselves, but what the tremors portend.

Poet, writer, retired teacher Frank Ormsby has a whole new vocabulary - the lists of medications to ward off his Parkinson's Disease and diabetes.

He holds a candle up to his diagnosis, shines it into murky corners, chats lightly about the darkness.

In this interview, he proved frank with presenter Marie-Louise Muir, unusually hesitant herself as she noted the tell-tale Parkinson's tremor.

If the disease is a curse, it has brought with it a fresh flourishing.

When he was diagnosed, he did what we all do and googled it.

Up came a joke: “What would you rather have, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. Obviously Parkinson's, I'd rather spill my pint than forget where I left it.”

The tremor is worse when he's excited and agitated... as an Arsenal fan, he's had a few moments recently.

He is also more mellow and his teacherly gulder has faded. There is a certain shy pride about that voice. A pupil came up and said: “Mr Ormsby you didn't teach me at Inst, but I heard you.”

Now, his life is more quiet, more measured.

And if the medication has done anything, it has given him a more obsessive bent: “I could sit down and work on a poem for six hours and I wouldn't even notice that time passing,” he confides.

There is that and the haunting sense of other beings in the room .. not menacing but ever present.

Not much conversation to be shared with a neurological disturbance, he jokes.

But in the poems themselves, read for us in this Falling Tree production, there is a glimpse of a loneliness beyond reason.

He lists the losses that may one day be his... shirt buttons that will not be done, laces he may no longer be able to tie, the awkward knife and fork.

He glimpses the ghost of his future self in a lively man in a wheelchair in the park.

There is the sense of a poignant, urgent race to get his poems down on the page and the programme ends with the typical self deprecation of a straight, honest Ulsterman.

“Poetry is necessary to my psychic well being,” he says, “if it wasn't such a bloody pompous thing to say.”

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