Sunday, May 16, 2021

Writers’ Pantry #70: Words for Healing

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: 

  I wanted
to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,
whoever I was, I was

for a little while.

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.


  1. Rosemary, I'll read your references soon as I fit your patient here. Next week is a bugger for me. Monday I see the orthopedic doctor to see if my broken big toe, right foot, is healing since it's been six weeks. I've broken both kneecaps at different times, neither has grown together although they did calcify.
    Tuesday I am scheduled to have all my teeth on the left side pulled to finish making a space for an upper appliance.
    Income tax forms package is scheduled to be sent in. I need one more form yet to be received so I must send an application for an extension instead.
    This little poem was written for NaPoWriMo but that day only Helen commented after reading. So I'm putting it out in hope of getting a few more readers.
    It gave me a little boost earlier in writing it and another boost tonight in reading it again. It is a memory poem and also in that I have outlived the preface bit's author in his being born a year later than I was born.
    I hope you are doing well or if not but have not shared that you will be cheered by hosting here and in reading all our stuff, some really good.
    BTW, is the word "stuff" in your vocabulary? Mrs. Jim had to explain its meaning just last week to a lady from Columbia, we are a very cosmopolitan city, as she had told her that we needed to get rid of things we didn't need any more.

    1. Hi Jim, well you certainly seem to need a lot of very practical healing in addition to whatever writing and reading may do to help your spirits. Actually you always come across as being in good spirits whatever the circumstances, so perhaps the literary activities do help you.
      I am doing very well at present, thanks, and doping what I can to stay that way.
      Yes, 'stuff' is definitely in my vocabulary. And I have quite a lot of it I could well get rid of!

    2. Oh, what a terrible typo! No, I am not DOPING to stay well!!!

  2. t's not only reading poetry that gets me through, Rosemary, it's writing it too, which has helped me through the death of our cat, Tosca, and my mother's death, as well as a few periods of ill health. I have favourite poems by Seamus Heaney that work a treat.

    1. Writing poetry is always what I turn to, too, in situations of grief and distress. I often say I don't know what people do who aren't poets – however do they cope?
      I've not read a lot of Seamus Heaney. I should; what I have read I like very much.

  3. Wishing everyone a good Sunday


  4. i must say, yes, poetry do help me cope with and overcome grief. and maybe anger and frustration and some other emotional trauma too. plus, i can also sketch or play video games so i do have other options to stay occupied. :)

    1. Ah yes, visual artists must have extra possibilities I had not thought of. I always love your sketches when you include them on your blogs.

  5. Sometimes it's the saddest words that help when I'm at my lowest. Once they bring on the tears I start feeling better.

  6. Writing sustained me thru the last five of my Mother's life ... today I have shared a piece I wrote in 2013 about the year 2004 and her friendship with Arthur.

  7. For me, it's writing and reading anything that catches my curiosity--stories, poetry, strange news--that does it. When times are extra tough, reading a story of someone who kick adversity in the teeth is like a balm.

  8. In the middle of all this, my older daughter is expecting a daughter in September and it has been a difficult pregnancy--this poem is for her.

    1. Oh, that's worrying or all concerned. I hope she's through the worst. I'll have a look at the poem shortly.

  9. Healing, it is definitely on my mind these days. My daughter's (Dawn's) journey of illness puts it foremost in my mind. I speak to the universe/spirit a lot these days. I have a small altar in front of my bedroom window that looks out on the woods behind my house. Nature is my tabernacle and I feel its peace and energy reach out to me.

    1. Ah yes, Nature is the most wonderful resource for healing, inspiration, restoration of one's spirit....

  10. My choleric-melancholic Mom writes poetry. I'm a fan of her poems even though she produces them sporadically. What miffs me is something she's consistent at: reciting mile-long prayers during family worship every single sundown and every single sunrise at home. We had to do it with eyes shut and on our knees the whole time. I was happy to get rid of the practice as an adult and living on my own. But I will always believe in the power of prayer.

    1. I too believe in the power of prayer. And obviously your Mum felt a need for her extreme practices. I suppose she thought she was teaching you something good and useful, but I can understand how it would have been arduous for you. I'm sure you're much happier finding your own ways. I believe all prayer is acceptable to God; kneeling optional.

  11. An encouragement to the writers.


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