Local psychologist and poet Jacky Power talks about the therapeutic benefits of writing.
What comes to mind when you think of poetry? Do your knees instantly give way at the memory of trying to decipher the meaning of a poem when you were 15 at the back of the class in English? I felt a bit like that, in fact, I wrote a poem about it:
Poetry makes me puke.
For starters, should it rhyme or not
To help you figure out the plot…
Amongst the lines?
No, poetry makes me sick.
First off, I don’t understand it -
And isn’t it all written by men who are
No poetry is naff.
You won’t catch me playing cat and mouse
With a motif,
This poem is not clever,
'Cos poetry makes me puke.
I just remember panicking when I read poetry at school - there seemed to be so many styles and meters and meanings and, well, I felt pretty intimidated by it all; especially when I then went on to study English at university!
The funny thing is, though, that I have continually come back to writing poetry time and time again. When I was a kid I had a diary which I wrote in code and I think poetry can be a bit like that - a grown up code, if you like. A poem is code where I can express how I feel, but I wrap it up in metaphor to take the sting out, and convince myself that no one really knows what I am talking about anyway! Poetry is a deeply personal way of expressing universal truths. It is what calls us home to ourselves.
The great thing is, you don’t need more than a pencil and a piece of paper to get started. You don’t need to be anywhere special, doing anything special to write a poem. You just need to notice. You can even choose what to notice! Maybe you want to notice how you feel, or what you are not feeling; maybe it’s a spider’s web or a flower. You can really write about anything…like an aloe vera for example:
In awe of Aloe Vera
pronounce your presence:
“I am here”.
secure your sanctity:
when you are
to the defenceless flesh within
the truth oozes out:
If you are not ready to write poetry (seriously, should it rhyme or not?!) then why not just start with expressive writing? When you use writing for wellbeing, it is not about other people:- not Mrs Stewart from when you were in Year 9; nor the Booker Prize judges; nor your family. You are not writing to gain accolade or validation or to get something right. The first thing that I would say is that when you write, write for yourself, to hear yourself.
Why does this matter? Well, think about it. Think about how many voices have altered your voice over the years. Maybe you were told you were too sensitive, or ‘least said soonest mended’, or ‘don’t be so xx’ (fill in the missing blank of the emotion).
Think of the blank page as a great listener. It doesn’t answer back, it has no advice, opinion, baggage. It’s like the perfect therapist!
The problem is though, that even if we have a great listener, it is human nature to resist what we don’t understand, can’t control and cannot predict.
We want to deny, but with writing we can explore.
We naturally want to resist, but with our pen we can create.
We may want to numb, but writing gives us the opportunity to connect.
So one of the first exercises that we can do is the exercise of free writing.
Free writing is very simple. You set the timer for ten minutes and just start to write. If you don’t know what to write, write ‘I don’t know what to write.’ You may even write the same word over and over and over again!
Ok. So what can you do with it now? Well, you may want to just chuck it away, which is, of course, fine. I’d do this if I wanted to just do a bit of a download and clear my head.
If you have more time you can also take a highlighter and see which words occur more than once, or really resonate with you. You could also look for where you may have been negative, for example. That is then your starting point. Then you can ask yourself things like, ‘Which part of me is this speaking?’; ‘How can I turn this negative into a positive?’; ‘What do I notice from what I have written?’; ‘Is this my voice or someone else’s?’.
So you are using the pen and page to connect with parts of you that may not get voiced ordinarily. It may be that you then can put some more form to them, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t. In writing for wellbeing, one of the key things may be to let a part of you speak that doesn’t normally get to speak. We can write to and from different aspects of ourselves. This helps us to embody this rejected part it in its entirety:- to see it, smell it and breathe it into life on the page.
One way you can do this is actually just write a letter from a part of yourself, for example:
‘Dear’ (insert your name) ‘I am your fear and this is what I want to tell you.’ Then write all the things of which you are fearful.
Psychologist Dr James Pennebaker has done a lot of research into expressive writing and how it improves health and eases emotional pain.
He asked one group of people to journal about trivial events, while a second group was asked to journal about personal crisis and trauma for four days in a row. Blood tests were administered before and six weeks after the writing sessions. Those who wrote about a crisis were found to have more positive moods, fewer illnesses and heightened immunity, whereas no changes were detected in the blood of those who had jotted down trivial events of the day.
I hope that this has given you the motivation to give it a go. If you think that it is something you could be interested in, then please visit my website for information about upcoming writing courses.