This week we are focusing on poetry and how writing down our feelings creatively can have an impact on our mental health. Across the week we will be publishing a range of poems, these poems do not belong to ECBC and have been submitted by external writers.
For some people, just hearing the word ‘poetry’ is enough to make them cringe or groan or roll their eyes, perhaps recalling endless GCSE English lessons slaving over poems that seemed to be about something simple – say, a pair of brown curtains – but that your teacher insisted was actually about the poet’s regret over not having a better relationship with their father. Poetry can often seem inaccessible or simply uninteresting. Occasionally, those who write poetry or write and speak about poetry can come across a little…snobbish. As if it is something elite that only a certain kind of person has the right or the ability to enjoy.
That idea is bull shit.
Poetry is art made from language and language belongs to us all. Or at least, it should.
There is a real beauty in poetry that I only came to appreciate when a student asked me a couple of years ago “What’s the definition of poetry?” and I realised that I couldn’t answer. Because the real beauty of poetry is that it is indefinable. People will try and define it. Will lay down parameters and constraints in an attempt to pin down what poetry is. In fact, Poet in The City identified 50 definitions and counting! But there is always a poem that defies any given definition but is still, quite unmistakably, poetry.
To my mind, poetry can be whatever you want. It can rhyme, or not. It can have a clear rhythm or structure, or not. It can be one short line or as long as a novel. It can be written in simple language that expresses exactly the thing you are trying to communicate or it can be an elaborate metaphor, filled with ambiguity that leaves the reader wondering. It can be shared far and wide or kept private and close to your heart. It is one of the most flexible modes of expression in existence and it is open to every one of us.
So why, you might ask, am I writing about poetry on a mental health blog? Quite simply, I believe that poetry can help us express the kinds of inexpressible feelings that mental illness often brings into our lives. I believe it can be a useful tool for exploring our experiences, understanding our journey, finding hope, coming to terms with situations and even helping us heal. I think that writing poetry offers us a freedom of expression that we often deny ourselves when we’re talking. I think that reading poetry can help us to connect with the experiences of others, which gives that much needed reassurance that we are not alone. It can also help us to reconnect with the world around us when our mental (ill) health would have us retreat into a mental hole and hide.
Poetry as a form of comfort
Reading poetry can take you out of your own head and into other experiences. There can be something very soothing and comforting about the carefully formed thought and feeling expressed in poetry. Likewise, writing poetry can help you get to the heart of thoughts or feelings of your own, that you maybe don’t quite understand – or that you’d like other people to better understand. It can help us navigate time, to find a kernal of truth about ourselves, humankind, even the world itself.
Poetry as a shared experience: Poets allow a certain amount of vulnerability in penning their deepest thoughts, desires, and struggles. In letting their audience in to themselves, they open the door to allow for a deep connection with their readers. And sometimes it’s just what we need to hear. Finding comfort in the knowledge of a shared pain–whether it’s through poetry, prose, or song lyrics, can help us put words to our own pain and suffering. As Coleridge once said, “poetry is the best spoken words in the best order.”
Poetry as a platform for change: While poetry can be a source of comfort, it can also be a powerful tool for societal change. Through spoken word, many have become more comfortable sharing about important topics like mental health and the internet has helped to spread these messages. Sabrina Benaim’s “Explaining My Depression to My Mother,” has had nearly 4.5 million views, evokes feelings of empathy and understanding from others who too live with conditions like depression and anxiety, and helps to educate and inform those who might not understand it.
That’s why this month, ECBC would like to invite you to explore poetry – whether by writing it, reading it or both – as a way of expressing or dealing with your own experiences of mental illness. If you’re not sure where to begin, check out the work of some of the incredible poets floating around on the internet or in your local bookstore.
Of course, the poetry doesn’t have to be directly about mental illness. For example, maybe you experience has kept you indoors and you would like to find a way to reconnect with the outside world but actually leaving the house feels like too big a step right now. Try writing a poem about nature – something you can see outside your window or something you remember loving about the natural world. Or if you don’t fancy trying your own hand at writing poetry, pick up some poems such as those by Mary Oliver, which beautifully capture the natural world in all its beauty.
I’m going to leave you with words of encouragement from one of my favourite poems by one of my favourite poets: Amanda Lovelace.
write the story.
into the dirtiest
parts of yourself.
rot & decay
& turn it into
nourishment & life.
& sing to it
& show it
grow a beautiful garden
from your aching
& teach yourself
how to thrive in it.
write your story.
– the sign you’ve been looking for