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.”

Of Creatives and Their Work


The quote above had only been posted to a Whatsapp group I’m part of for all of an hour before it set off a firestorm. The bone of contention was Anais Nin’s body of work, (probably rightly) deemed inappropriate for the context in which it was posted (it’s a group filled with the super spiritual folk I serve alongside on my church’s tech and media team).

I made a spirited attempt at defending the value of her body of work – risque subject and bohemian lifestyle notwithstanding –  a position which left me just short of getting my knuckles rapped. I started typing a lengthy response in the group but did the sensible thing and backed off, taking the time to ponder what I felt was a wider philosophical question: can an artist’s lifestyle be decoupled from their body of work? Or even certain elements of that body work?

I think the answer has to be Yes. I’m a firm believer that one can learn from anything; good, bad or indifferent. This is perhaps never more obvious than in the context of words which can – and should be taken on their own merits, untainted by the trappings and baggage of their author. The test of the validity – and usefulness of words for learning – should be if they clarify any objective realities and are true in any sense of the word. Sometimes, the learning value can be unintended but the point has to be that by drawing a line and proscribing certain works because of their authors, we lose part of the vitality of a robust conversation. For what it’s worth the biblical Solomon lived as wanton a life as could be, one so enamoured of the female body that he warehoused a thousand of them but did manage to contribute two books to the bible, both which are replete with absolute gems which shine a light on human behaviour. His enduring quality has to be the cynicism and candor with which he reflected on life.

Lesson learned – to always consider the wider context and the audience before sharing stuff – I have lived to fight another day 🙂

#59 – Mosbytis

Spent the bulk of the weekend re-watching Season 9 of How I Met Your Mother, complete with its unsatisfactory ending in which Ted shoots off to Robin’s after all she put him through. Tsk!!! Tsk!!! Before that though, Ted’s summation of his 9 year journey to finding Tracy did resonate with my inner suppressed romantic:

It was at times a long, difficult road. But I’m glad it was long and difficult, because if I hadn’t gone through hell to get there, the lesson might not have been as clear. You see, kids, right from the moment I met your mom, I knew… I have to love this woman as much as I can for as long as I can, and I can never stop loving her, not even for a second. I carried that lesson with me through every stupid fight we ever had, every 5:00 a.m. Christmas morning, every sleepy Sunday afternoon, through every speed bump. Every pang of jealousy or boredom or uncertainty that came our way, I carried that lesson with me. And I carried it with me when she got sick. Even then, in what can only be called the worst of times, all I could do was look at her and thank God, thank every god there is, or ever was, or will be, and the whole universe, and anyone else I can possibly thank that I saw that beautiful girl on that train platform, and that I had the guts to stand up, walk over to her, tap her on the shoulder, open my mouth, and speak.

Oh to love and be loved that intentionally and intensely.

#LifeGoals