Paula Matthews looks at Loud Silence by Bill McKnight : In Defiance of the Forces of Stigma

Each poet, and indeed every artist, has a unique voice, their own individual creative vision. We often hear about the significance of this voice and the sector is becoming increasingly aware of the connection between the deeply personal nature of creativity and the wellbeing of people with such a gift.

Inspire Wellbeing have recently teamed up with Dr Gillian Shorter from the Ulster University to produce a report on the current state of play in the creative sector when it comes to mental health:

Dr Gillian Shorter


The findings of Dr. Shorter’s research are troubling, highlighting high levels of mental health difficulties in the artistic community, with particular issues of suicidal ideation amongst performing artists responding to the survey. In this context, during Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2018, it is deeply restorative and highly refreshing to listen to the full resonance of Bill McKnight’s “Loud Silence”.

The term ‘compassion’ is becoming a buzzword, it appears frequently at present and there is risk that the concept may be cheapened, losing its meaning through over use. However, it can rightly and confidently be applied to the work of this Belfast based poet, because it is entirely accessible to anyone who has felt the pain of stigma or who has struggled with their mental health.



It is equally accessible to the professionals supporting mental health and is written with profound empathy, showing the reader the truth from all angles. This work demonstrates a level of social inclusion of which most artists can only dream. It is possible that this is because Bill reports that he simultaneously uses services to support his mental health, works in psychiatric services and practises the poetic form.

Bill McKnight is a significant poet in Northern Ireland. His vision is one of dispelling mental health stigma and this vision has the hallmarks of a vocational calling. In 2012, Ward Stothers commented on Bill’s work, saying, “Bill is called, for truth to spread and to breathe healing balm landing smack on the fractured thoughts of others.”


Anyone who understands what it is to have fractured thoughts, or even to try to respond to them as a professional, will find healing in this collection. This is the particular healing which can come only when a human being shows the moral courage to stand with others in solidarity.

The profound and concise poem ‘Fear’ deftly reduces the power of fear by concluding that it simply ‘interferes’. In this way, “Loud Silence” effortlessly takes the sting out of some of the more terrifying aspects of mental illness. This soothes those hidden parts of us that suffer, it indicates between the poetic lines that no one suffers alone.


The collection then goes deeper into solidarity, reflecting on the nature of the therapeutic relationship from the service user’s perspective, commenting on the one directional flow of sensitive self-disclosure and the fact that the professional may have one eye on you, but one eye on their career. At the same time, there is genuine appreciation for the shared humanity of all and tangible connection with the isolation and withdrawal that comes to every party involved with mental health.

Graham Thornicroft, Professor of Community Psychiatry, King’s College London, lauds this collection and highlights the impact of Bill’s writing, “… in defiance of the forces of stigma.”

Graham Thornicroft

In a world where people still seem to be afraid to speak up about their mental health, “Loud Silence” is essential reading, and can be purchased on Amazon:

Bill is currently developing a socially inclusive creative project led by mental health service users for World Mental Health Day on 10th October. Ahead of that, it is fitting to focus on the collection’s title poem:

Loud Silence

Withdrawn from society.
There’s stigma.
There’s secrecy.
There’s shame.
And the service-user’s pain.
Loud silence is often the voice
of the voiceless ‘insane’.

If you want to hear the voice of the voiceless, you will find it in the lived experience skilfully reflected in this profoundly moving, darkly comic and sharply incisive collection of poems.

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