Harnessing Poetry Prescriptions in a Time of Loneliness
Charlotte Dent uncovers the healing powers of ‘prescriptive poetry’ and the value it has during during times of isolation and loneliness
Last week, I had a discussion with a friend about therapy. His distaste for it was palpable. “Friends give better advice than therapists, the professionals are charlatans, and the experience demoralising” he told me. I asked him what better way he knew for dealing with life’s problems. “Talk to the wind, go on a walk; at least those don’t charge £60 an hour”.
The person in question had clearly had a bad experience in the chair. I couldn’t blame him for his resultant aversion. But I began to wonder how he would cope during this lockdown, in which a second wave of Covid brings with it the inevitable return of isolation, anxiety and loneliness. I considered what I could recommend to him that was both effective and accessible. Indeed, what could anyone turn to in order to stay sane these days? A diary is always useful for unburdening the mind. But although it may listen, it can’t respond with advice.
If you’re in need of guidance, comfort and kinsmanship, (or simply being understood), then let me suggest you try ‘The Poetry Pharmacy’. This collection, described by Stephen Fry as ‘balm for the soul, fire for the belly, an arm around the lonely shoulder’, is William Sieghart’s prescription for solace and comfort in times of hardship. And at £12.99, it’s certainly cost effective.
Sometimes, all we really need is for someone to give us permission to feel as we feel
It gives emboldening poetic advice for an array of emotions. Lonely? Hafez has the answer in his 700 year old poem My Brilliant Image:
I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness, The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!
Anxious, insecure or feeling purposeless? Sieghart provides a page of sagacious and personal commentary on an array of emotions alongside each poem. On infatuation he comments: ‘this is one of the most spectacularly powerful feelings in the world. This is being alive. Don’t wish it away – embrace it’.
The poetry collection manages to voice those complex emotions that often feel beyond our own expression. It embraces all aspects of the fragile human condition with open arms. The supplementary commentary provides validation for those universal, but uniquely agonising experiences such heartbreak; ‘too often, when we are suffering, the wound is only deepened by our sense that we are not entitled to our misery. […] Sometimes, all we really need is for someone to give us permission to feel as we feel’.
If you cannot afford, distrust, or find the notion of therapy scary, The Poetry Pharmacy might be a good alternative.