Well, dear Wordsmiths, poetry won’t set your broken leg, detoxify your swollen tonsils or stop a burn from blistering – let alone prevent the spread of COVID – but it has at times helped me get through grief and other emotional trauma.
Sometimes that's been due to reading poems which express similar grief and trauma. When someone manages to convey exactly what you're feeling, in all its anguish, it can have a cathartic effect more deeply healing than any soothing words of comfort.
A E Housman’s White in the Moon the Long Road Lies is one that has helped me through loss of love in the past. And his The Rain It Streams On Stone and Hillock, a denial of grief which utterly fails to deny it, has helped me mourn my dead. Beneath a bleak but stoical tone, both these pieces are full of anguish.
Or, it can help to read poems which have nothing to do with such emotions but instead remind us of the glories of nature, in such a way as to take us out of ourselves. Pretty much anything of Mary Oliver’s can do that for me.
Oliver knew she was doing it, for all the me's out here whom she would never meet. She accepted it as her task. 'My work is loving the world,' she said, 'Let me / keep my mind on what matters, / which is my work, / which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.' And she said it in a poem called Messenger.
She did it for herself too. In another poem, Dogfish, she said:
Quite so. Writing one’s own poetry can be deeply healing. Sadly, over the last year many poets have found themselves unable to write, ground down by the pandemic and other horrors. It's not surprising; we are sensitive souls, let's face it. Yet for poets to be unable to express themselves is surely the ultimate in despair!
At such times, I find it helps to (a) look outside myself, and (b) turn to the short forms – to capture a moment, an impression, rather than dwell on the larger picture. Haiku and senryu are ways to do that. I also love trying UK writer Satya Robyn’s idea: ‘small stones’. (I’ve mentioned them before, a time or seven. They’re a favourite practice for me. But for anyone who hasn’t heard of them before:) You focus on some small thing you encounter in your environment, whether beautiful or in some other way interesting, pick it up as if it were a small stone, take it home and polish it. My own small stones are most often in verse, but that's not a requirement.
Perhaps it is stories which heal you? There are times when I disappear into a wallow of escapist reading. Regency Romances work; so does Young Adult Fantasy. I have friends who love detective stories; others who create their own fictional adventures as gamers. (Never appealed to me – I'm not much of a fiction writer anyway – but my Firstborn is an avid gamer, along with many of his mates.)
As I so seldom write fiction, if I’m going to try and help myself in prose, it’s likely to be an account of what I’m feeling and why. Writing it out, a bit like a journal entry – if I kept a journal. (My poems are my journal.) Such an account might turn out to be a prose poem, or an excerpt for a memoir I may possibly complete some day.
I'm curious. How do words help you find healing when you need it? Perhaps you are one who prefers to read soothing, comforting words? Or maybe you turn to comedy to take your mind off things? Some of us, I know, in times of need, write poems which are essentially prayers – for ourselves and/or the world. And very beautiful they can be. I think the act of praying, publicly or privately, can be immensely healing for oneself as well as those one prays for.
I’d love you to leave a little note here in the comments, if you care to, to answer my question.
After all that – please regale us with a poem or story, old or new, on any subject. If you’re giving us prose, please make it 369 words max, excluding title.
For those who like a little advance notice:
Next Wednesday Rommy will be inviting us to compose either a list poem or a prose piece that incorporates the idea of a list.
Material shared here is presented for study and review. Poems, photos, and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, usually the authors. (Older material may be out of copyright).
Photo of river pebbles by Fyre Willow on Unsplash.