Poetry As Therapy: A Brief Listening (and Reading) List

My grand plan for Lent this year was to post a poem a day using the Church of England’s #LiveLent reflections as a jumping-off point,  but life happened (we lost G and then went into a full COVID-19 related shutdown) and I ended up stuck on 17 days. Poetry as prayer seemed like a good idea given the difficult season of faith I was in, in which prayer felt alien. It is not an entirely novel idea as I found out with more than a few essays reflecting on the subject, two examples being these excellent pieces at Talking Writing and The Millions. There is a rich history of the poetic form in various religious writing and in their associated rites; some might even argue that the enduring allure of the King James Version of the Bible has more to do with the cadence of its words than anything else. Come to think of it, the Psalms sometimes read like the brain dumps of a conflicted person, like transcripts of therapy sessions.

Whatever arguments for or against prayer one might make, anything which helps us wrestle with our deepest darkest pains and the weight of life has its merits and given what the world is dealing with at the moment, we all need that in some shape or form. In a sense it is therapy.

Fortuitously, April is National Poetry Writing Month, and the daily prompts from NaPoWriMo.net have helped me get back to writing again which has led me down the rabbit hole of finding (and revisiting) various projects related to poetry as therapy. A brief list though, so feel free to point me in the direction of any others in this vein. Enjoy.

  1. Poetry Unbound (Pádraig Ó Tuama/ On Being): From the podcast description – “Immerse yourself in a single poem, guided by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Short and unhurried; contemplative and energizing”. My personal favourites include episodes featuring Joy Harjo,  Faisal Mohyuddin and Leanne O’Sullivan. Pádraig Ó Tuama’s Poets.org archive is also worth a read.
  2. Lifelines (Malcolm Doney and Martin Wroe): From the podcast description – “A poem a day through Lent.  A poem read by the poet and followed with a moments reflection on where the poem came from … and where it’s going.” It all began from a book which is also worth a read.
  3. The Poetry Pharmacy (William Sieghart): The book and the Intelligence Squared conversation are worth every dime and every second spent not least for the range of emotions they cover and the stellar cast that discussed the book on the Intelligence Squared conversation. A second edition of the book is in print, as is an actual (physical) store.
  4. Steph Burt’s TED Talk Why People Need Poetry: “We’re all going to die — and poems can help us live with that.”

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