Poem Therapy

Saturday June 12, 2021

Quite a few people have written about how helpful writing is, so I thought I’d share my own experiences with writing poems. Writing might not work for everyone, but it did help me over a difficult time and opened up new social connections. Perhaps most importantly, for me at least, it made me notice details, and better relate to the world around me. I now regularly use writing and reading poems as a self-administered therapy.

When my mother died a few years ago there was a gap in me that I didn’t even know had been filled before. I didn’t notice it at first, everything was so busy. The hospital wards and car parks to navigate; the forms to fill in; writing and printing the eulogy; the funeral; being kind and sympathetic to friends and relatives who all missed her. And then, when I came back home to my little cottage on the moor, the finality emerged as a gap. I read Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Parliament Hill Fields’ and found that it helped.

So, one evening I wrote a poem. I’ve always enjoyed poetry; it was something that my mother had instilled in me from an early age. I still have old, battered copies of slim books by Ted Hughes, Thom Gunn and TS Eliot that my mother gave me when I was a young teenager; but I hadn’t written a poem since school ‘O level’ Eng Lit homework. It didn’t get good marks and I didn’t bother again.

But that evening when I was trying to articulate the memories of my mother, I ended up writing a poem about our long-distance telephone conversations and the drive south to be with her at the end. I can’t say whether it was a good poem or not, but that’s not the point. I’ve since revised it many times. I reorder the words, perhaps taking some out or adding some in; and each time I do, the gap fills.

I joined a writing group in the village and some online poetry groups. I wrote other poems and read other poets. I don’t always join the meetings; they can be quite daunting. But it’s nice to know that there are other people also trying to write poetry, also trying to fill gaps.

I met the poet Deryn Rees-Jones once and she showed me how she starts the process of writing a poem in a blank notebook so that the words and ideas can go anywhere on the page.

I think the blank page is important for my personal form of poem therapy: not to be trammelled by lines. Big writing, small writing, writing along the edges, writing in circles, crossing out, scribbled writing, careful writing. Writing the way I feel and what I see. Sometimes a poem emerges, sometimes it doesn’t.

Occasionally I send poems to magazines but have nothing accepted yet. At first, I was disappointed, but now realise the poems are only a way of telling truth to myself.

Here’s an ode to the nightingale by Deryn Rees-Jones that’s one of my ‘go to’ therapy poems.


Has anyone else tried writing poems for therapy?

Rowan on the moor
A Moodscope member.

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