Poetry Therapy

By  | October 11, 2014 | 0 Comments | Filed under: Poetry

Write what you know. Write what you feel.
Writers of all stripes are often given (and often give) this piece of questionable advice; to draw from personal experience or know-how or, more importantly, from the emotions that you are familiar with. Sometimes, the advice works; sometimes it doesn’t.
Often, when we become emotionally wounded, we are stymied somewhat as we attempt to move forward in the healing of personal and communal pain and process these experiences, having no idea what to make, nor what might come from them. In fact, we can find ourselves dithering, confounded, and waiting for some sort of inspiration, waiting for some help. And time and again, nothing happens. This is where poetry therapy becomes an effective tool in a recovery process.
Poetry therapy involves three key elements: the client, the therapist, and the writing process itself. The goal of poetry therapy is to attain a level of psychological well-being and healing through poetry or other spoken or written means. The Institute for Poetic Medicine, for example, (www.poeticmedicine.org) lists as its goals:
 To develop accuracy and understanding in perceiving self and others;
 To develop creativity, self-expression, and greater self-esteem;
 To strengthen interpersonal skills and communication skills;
 To ventilate overpowering emotions and release tension;
 To find new meaning through new ideas, insights, and information; and
 To promote change and increase coping skills and adaptive functions.
As writers we often take to our notebook, commence the writing process and think that we can heal ourselves, writing through our pain. Having recently experienced a death within my family, I found myself struggling to deal with this loss, with the grief and with the rollercoaster of emotions that accompanies such life-changing events. Inside my head, I had volumes to write about this loss. I imagined myself writing page upon page, turning my grief into poetic turns of phrases, crafting poems about this sense of loss and longing. I even ventured across the 401 to Chapters and purchased a beautiful (and expensive) leather-bound journal expressly for this purpose.
It did not happen. At least not right away. But I picked up a pen and began to write. Self-directed poetry therapy, perhaps?
Those floodgates of inspiration did not open, nor did the imagined countless pages of perfectly crafted verse magically appear on my desk. And more importantly, the grief still hovered.
I have a few pages of scribbled notes, thoughts, couplets and such. What I thought I could craft effectively and abundantly on my own has not come to me…at least not yet.
I’ll keep you posted. Until then….


Bill Ashwell has been a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective and a volunteer tutor with the Literacy Group of Waterloo Region since 1995. He was a contributor for FM 98.5 CKWR’s Monday Night with the Arts radio program and has served as Literary Coordinator for the Cambridge Arts Festival. His work has been published in the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and in Ascent Aspiration Magazine’s Aguaterra Anthology of poetry and fiction. In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Literary Arts.

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