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What do you think of when you think of poetry? What do you feel? Does it bring you back to those long forgotten teenage years, where you had iambic pentameter shoved down your unwilling throat, by a perhaps unsympathetic and burnt out English teacher?
Or perhaps you had an awe-inspiring teacher – one who brought poetry to life – in all its winged glory. A Robin Williams like character from “Dead Poets Society”. I hope this was your experience. Because poetry is not all structure and rhyme and fixed, turgid meanings.
Poetry is the very language of the soul.
So if your experience of this soulful medium has so far been less than – well – soulful, then I cordially invite you into the realm of poetry therapy. Which encompasses a whole lot more than poetry and depression.
Have you ever heard of this? It is part of the broader field of writing or biblio therapy. I wasn’t aware of it until a couple of years ago myself, yet it is an area that is growing in popularity.
You do not have to be depressed to benefit from this. You merely have to be human. It is a remarkable path to self-discovery and personal growth, and you may even heal a few bits and pieces along the way. Because we all have broken parts of ourselves, that need to be healed. And maybe we will receive insights. Into how we want to live. Or perhaps, don’t. Or why we do the things we do. How we can bring out our strengths, minimize our weaknesses, get to know ourselves a little better. Even our shadow parts …. Because self knowledge is power – a secure base from which to move forward in our lives.
Poems as friends
I once attended a workshop, held by The Poetry Exchange, (see link below), entitled “Poems as Friends”. I like that so much. Because a beloved poem can be as familiar and as comforting as a trusted friend. A source you can rely on when times gets tough. A reminder that things will get better again and that you are not alone.
Consider this: A poem from a bygone time. You read this poem, which originates from the hand and mind of a man or woman long deceased. Who perhaps lived in a completely different culture than your own. And yet …. And yet you find yourself asking – how do they know? How did this person, who has never, ever met me, who didn’t even walk the earth the same time as me, peer into my very soul and see what’s inside?
An experience such as this, can act as a magical bridge across the ages. It is understanding that as a human being, you are never alone. Because deep down, we are all the same. Subject to the same struggles and emotions. Your tribe is out there after all. It is only a matter of finding them. They might even be closer than you think.
Let me give you what I think is a beautiful example:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
Rumi, 13th century.
Wouldn’t you like to meet him there?
A poem is a friend that never judges.
So what is poetry therapy?
It is defined as the use of poetry for therapeutic purposes. For personal development, self discovery and problem solving.
Typically, it happens in a group setting. The group gets together for a few hours and a theme might be chosen. The facilitator – often a trained poetry therapist – will select several poems that are relevant to that theme. He or she will read these poems then host a guided discussion. (S)he may then use a series of prompts. For example, ask you to choose your favourite line from a poem and request that you write your own poem or piece of prose, inspired by that line.
The absolute beauty of this process, is that you can’t do it wrong. How can you? When you are expressing your very self. Nobody is going to critique your poem or piece of writing. That is not the point. There is only acceptance and understanding. Of yourself, by yourself and from the therapist and the group. Self discovery through self expression. You might be pleasantly surprised. You might even discover there is a poet lurking within …. trying to get out…..
It is not that hard to discover. And can lead to great joy.
Poetry therapy is a creative arts therapy, not dissimilar to dance or visual art therapy. It can be used to identify all manner of life issues. Think of all the poems in existence – new ones being created daily. Different eras, different languages, different subjects. Poetry encompasses everything under the sun.
Do you have a favourite poem? Or is there a particular poet that really speaks to you? I have several that are very close to my heart. Like Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. Yes, not always cheery, yet searingly honest. And when I was a young woman, seeking to know myself, these two paved the way in self discovery. And a special shout-out to Maya Angelou.
I resonate with many male poets too. Rumi – already mentioned. Hafiz. William Wordsworth -for extolling the beauty of nature and reminding us of these quietly beautiful places that we can store up in out minds, and visit when life gets too much. The wonderful, wild Welshman, Dylan Thomas. And my fellow countryman, W.B. Yeats. Both of these men allowed me to taste the “The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun”.
I could go on forever. But I would prefer to know what you think. Which poem is your favourite? Do you have a dear friend that you’ve only met on the page? And is there a poet that can see into your very soul? Perhaps even down through the centuries.
And do you think that poetry therapy might be for you? It might be. If you’d like to appreciate poems for their own intrinsic beauty and what they mean to your personally, rather than analyze the hell out of them, to the point of annihilation, as you may have been taught to do in school or college.
Let me leave you with a quote:
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
We are not alone in our isolation.
Emily knew it.
Do you know it too?
Let me know in the comments below.
The warmest of wishes,
Useful websites and recommended reading:
Poetry and Story Therapy : The healing Power of Creative Expression by Geri Giebel Chavis
Black Rainbow by Rachel Kelly