Poetry amidst the Pandemic

writing in book with cup of coffee and croissant Photo by Cathryn Lavery from Unsplash

The Benefits

Poetry—a now under-appreciated genre compared to the more popular novel—constitutes one of many ways to soothe the mind and reorient the self during the seemingly endless and tiresome pandemic. In this article, I will argue for the power of poetry and poetics—be it in creation or immersion—to help one’s stressed and tired mind, and by extension one’s bodily health. Before leaving you to the world of words, I will end with one of my own recent poetic musings in hopes of encouraging your own.

According to psychologist Nicholas Mazza in his seminal text Poetry Therapy: Theory and Practice, poetry is a sub-branch of the larger category of journal therapy—a well-known technique that people employ to soothe and reorganize their racing thoughts and concerns (3). Writing in general not only taps into one’s emotions, but also helps to gain clarity through written reflection of one’s problems. Romantic poets, for instance, believed that poetry in particular could help people manage their feelings and also gain insight into themselves (Mazza 4). As Mazza asserts, while most therapists focus on the scientific or medical sphere of treatment, forging an interdiscplinarity between arts and sciences is crucial to newer forms of therapy in order to offer patients different options from which to choose and try (9). I, too, believe in this intersectional approach as it widens the possibilities for those dealing with mental health struggles.

Specifically, in relation to the young adult population, Mazza reviews a few key studies that suggest that literature in general and poetry in particular can help this age group, in which we often see many struggling with various degrees of mental instability. For instance, he gestures toward Mosher and Danoff-Burg (2006), whose experiment showed that writing unsent letters to specific people – either those who helped or hurt the participants in the past – leads to better health, calmer demeanour, and increased sleepy quality (102-3). On another note, Furman (2014) illustrates that writing poetry, then sharing it with others in the class, can also stabilize mental fluctuations by helping the participants work through their problems in an interpersonal setting (Mazza 103). Considering the rise in mental difficulties among university and college campuses, especially with the persisting pandemic, it remains important to find multiple creative avenues through which emotions and traumas can be delved into and remedied.

The Tips

1. Find a point of departure.

This can be anything that catches your attention during the day, such as a specific landscape, tune, memory, or even problem. When you have an image to work from, you can put a few preliminary thoughts down on paper, before revisiting them when you have time to craft your poem. At times, I find it helpful, as a visual learner and creator, to also sketch out the idea and add colours if I so choose.

2. Set up a relaxing environment conducive to good writing.

The writing space should be personalized according to your preferences and for your comfort. Choose the time of day during which you write best or most fluidly. Afterward, I like to set up a relaxing atmosphere by playing light instrumental music, diffusing some essential oils like lavender or peppermint, and shifting to a position near a window to enjoy the landscape outside as I write. Take as much, or as little, time as you need and feel free to return to your work to edit it or make multiple versions.

3. Leave it be, then return.

As I iterated above, it is best to come back to a poem after a period of time to reassess with a new mindset and perspective. Here, you can make changes, deletions, or additions; sometimes, I even copy the poem again onto a new document or rewrite it using new motifs that I’ve come across since the initial writing session.

4. Sharing it with others.

This doesn’t necessarily mean formal publication, but sharing your poem with friends and family or with a poetry group are great ways to build confidence, add a performative aspect to the written text, and also receive feedback and responses. Editing your poem after this is optional but you may choose to do so if you see any weak points.

5. Moving on.

From here, you can write more poetry as the inspiration comes and goes; this can be in the form of a collection with an interlacing theme, or perhaps a more eclectic group without any inherent connection between the individual works. Perhaps you realize that, after trying this exercise, poetry may not be suitable for your writing style, and that too is okay. It is all about testing out new ways of relaxation as the pandemic has been with us for one year now.

 

woman sitting on a chair next to a window Photo by Tatiana from Pexels

The Finished Poem

To end, I would like to share one of my recent poems, in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the pen and write.

“Globe”

Eyes flickering up

Once, twice, too often

Trying

To catch and still the dancing hues

That seep through jagged panels

Stretching out to form a thin dome over my mind.

 

Distill the falling shades

With my vision

Such that

I can paint and manipulate the waters

Trapping my feet at the ankle, now.

Count. Control.

Although I feel myself slipping past the horizon,

Beyond the edge of azure, sky or sea,

I am merely shifting, shuffling, shaking in

Place.

 

Again,

The orb flits from outside the glass,

Exuding at once the emotions of dawn and dusk.

Sun, or

Fire?

As my mind reaches forward to caress its light,

I find myself falling backward against the tree

Which sustains this sphere, and suspends my breath.

 

It dissolves.

 

Moving slowly,

I turn my eyes toward the elder behind me,

And run my fingertips across its wrinkles, both

Deep and shallow.

Below, the roots curl and tickle my swollen toes

As leaves graze my cheeks and divide the airy mist.

They have contained in their veins the colours I can only watch

From aside.

Beneath the water,

Two buds begin to sprout and bend.

I cup my hands together to bring them closer

Before shutting my eyes

Releasing my breath

And slipping away with the waters

To that other globe

Where time persists

With the flap of a golden wing

With the turn of a dusty page.

With the release of a breath

Held in

For too long.

 

Work Cited

Mazza, Nicholas. Poetry Therapy: Theory and Practice, 2nd ed., Routledge, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central, ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/mcgill/detail.action?docID=4568612.