Writing and reading poetry can both help us improve our mental and physical health.
In William Sieghart’s The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-And-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul (2017, Penguin Books) poetry is prescribed to be read as solace for 56 of life’s problems that he thinks really matter. So, for example, the first in his line-up is Wendell Barry’s The Peace of Wild Things, to be read for anxiety:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
This poem invites us to connect with another who too has felt the pain or grief or despair that we do and who has sought, and found, solace through communing with nature – coming into ‘the peace of wild things’. It reminds us to look outside ourselves. It has a peaceful and restful quality to it that may encourage our racing thoughts to rest for a moment.
Writing has been shown to have physical and mental health benefits (Pennebaker, J. (1990) Opening Up. New York: The Guildford Press). One way of opening up through writing is to use prescriptive exercises focusing on a particular form of poetry, for example: acrostics, alpha poems, pantoums or haiku. Focusing on the form, you free yourself from worrying about the content and the results can be interesting and insightful.
I particularly like haiku for it’s mindful focus on the natural world (much like Wendell Barry’s poem) and it’s shortness of form which allows you to say simply what you mean/ feel and nothing more. As part of a daily writing practice, it can be wonderful for focusing on what’s important in the present moment.
Here’s one for National Poetry Day and I’m going to write another one every morning for the next seven days and post them here on my blog:
earth and wood and air
these are my words written now
sacred standing stones