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.”

Dingin Doon

thanun-buranapong-JbeBraLha7U-unsplash

Photo by Thanun Buranapong on Unsplash

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Bar a few days here and there it has been, as we say out here, dingin doon; read wet, cold and windy, emphasis on the wet part. That is is mid-June adds to the slight sense of gloominess that comes with it, a mood which I see replicated in the faces of the people I run into about town, in my view at least. All of that has left me with quite a lot more time on my hands than usual, which for better or for worse has ended up exploring various reddit rabbit holes,  chief of which have been the Thinkpad, ChromeOS and SurfaceLinux ones. They have provided the welcome of distraction of providing the inspiration for me trying to replace Windows on my old Thinkpad Tablet 10 with either Linux or ChromeOS. Both have been qualified fails – a debloated version of windows currently serves me passably on the device -but the ultimate goal would be to replace it with something zipper and functional, à la this attempt. I suspect the search will continue, albeit at a hopefully less time intensive pace.  In between all of this, I managed to fit in some time out with the guys from work, a decent enough evening the only black mark against it being the aforementioned bucket loads of rain.

Recently read or heard

The Longform Wrap #3

A few of the more interesting pieces I stumbled on on the web during March… Enjoy

1. On Spock – Gukira: Leonard Nimoy died, and amidst the outpouring of grief and the eulogies, I found I related most with this piece by Gukira who said it better than I ever could

I do not have a single Spock moment—an image or narrative that stays with me. Unlike those who know how to write about TV and movies, I cannot recall a single episode, at least not by name. When I was younger, when I first encountered Spock in Nairobi, in reruns from the 80s, I encountered him as gesture: as the arched eyebrow, as the grip that caused others to faint, as the Vulcan mind meld.

2. Marissa Mayer has completed Step One – Stephen Levy (Medium): On the Marissa Mayer effect at Yahoo;

She found Yahoo, despite its persistently huge audience, a sclerotic artifact of the desktop era, overly dependent on fading display ads, short of engineering talent and absolutely nowhere in mobile. And now the company is back on track. There are hundreds of new engineers, and an energized culture. Last year it reaped over a billion dollars of revenue in mobile ads — a business that didn’t exist at Yahoo when Mayer arrived. It bought Tumblr, which has 460 million users and is growing faster than Instagram. Yahoo has also built a system that allows app developers — the royalty of the new mobile age — to popularize and monetize their products. Meanwhile, Yahoo apps have won Apple Design Awards for two years running, and the company boasts over 500 million mobile users.

3.Valentine (Why There Would Be No Quiet Revolution Without My Husband) – Susan Cain (LinkedIn): From the Author of Quiet, a moving tribute in our post modern world of how much difference a supportive partner can still make.

I, in contrast, had written a poem. OK, a few poems. They were mostly about my love life, and they were clearly insignificant compared to Ken’s work in the world. Still, one evening I gathered my courage and handed him a sheaf of them, biting my nails as I anticipated his response. It came the next day, in an e-mail with big, 48 point letters: “Holy Shit. Keep writing. Drop Everything. Write. WRITE WOMAN, WRITE.” He wasn’t kidding about the “drop everything” part. This was not the bland encouragement of the experienced guy with a big book being kind to the young girlfriend and her poems. He wanted me to sacrifice for the craft of writing – and he, as my supportive partner, was prepared to do the same. He meant every word of that e-mail. I would find out just how deeply he meant it in the years to come.

4. As migrants we leave home in search of a future, but we lose the past – Gary Younge (The Guardian): Another emotive piece on the immigrant life (other pertinent reads – Finding a home in the apocalypse; Always Returning).

Migration involves loss. Even when you’re privileged, as I am, and move of your own free will, as I did, you feel it. Migrants, almost by definition, move with the future in mind. But their journeys inevitably involve excising part of their past. It’s not workers who emigrate but people. And whenever they move they leave part of themselves behind. Efforts to reclaim that which has been lost result in something more than nostalgia but, if you’re lucky, less than exile. And the losses keep coming. Funerals, christenings, graduations and weddings missed – milestones you couldn’t make because your life is elsewhere.

5: DC Talk and the influence of faith fortifying songs – Trevin Wax (The Gospel Coalition): Fascinating trip down memory lane to growing up in CCM in the 90’s and the pervasive influence of DC Talk which continues to this day in the solo career of TobyMac and the ‘takeovers’; Kevin Max as frontman for Audio Adrenaline and Michael Tait for the Newsboys, other iconic CCM players from that time.

1990’s CCM, for all the faults of its corny creativity (many of which are even more glaring and obvious as time goes by), was successful in one key sense. It gave me and my generation a different narrative. It was a sub-culture, yes, but no matter much some may sneer, it was a culture, and cultures are formative. Twenty years later, it’s the element of “fortifying faith” in so many dcTalk songs that has stuck with me. And for that, I’m grateful.

Links 04.10.2014

A few of the interesting bits and bobs I’ve stumbled on over the last few days

  1. Hope for a cleaner, cheaper, oil less future just became a wee stronger. Nigeria beware?
  2. @forakin on why we should all blog. For a more in depth analysis, Andrew Sullivan’s seminal piece from 2008 offers a longer read.
  3. The £11bn conundrum. The scale of the problem or an opportunity?
  4. Khoi on the design of the iPhone 6. Unimpressed is the word
  5. Education as a tool for disrupting and challenge paradigms – the NY Times weighs in.
  6. Ebola contained.. Phew –
  7. Elon Musk, on Mars
  8. On lightning, and being struck by it.
  9. On Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Modern Novel.
  10. Pay and gender gaps, closing?

The Friday Read: The True Cost of Parenting

Joshua Gans on The True Cost of Parenting, and why $180,000 may not necessarily be as outlandish as it sounds especially when the opportunity cost of stay at home parenting is factored in:

Parents know their children, have their interests at heart, are on call all the time and mean you don’t have to worry about child care.  This is precisely the utilitarian services that the high priced nannies are being valued for. Once you include stay-at-home parents, you’ll find that we are all paying much more for nannies than we think.

The original article on the $180k nanny here.

The Friday Read: Are Emotions Prophetic?

Are emotions prophetic? The short answer is No, but Jonah Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex offers a good summary of the long answer [pdf]:

Every feeling is like a summary of data, a quick encapsulation of all the information processing that we don’t have access to. (As Pham puts it, emotions are like a “privileged window” into the subterranean mind.) When it comes to making predictions about complex events, this extra information is often essential. It represents the difference between an informed guess and random chance.

Thin-slicing for dummies? I suppose the unasked question is how our prejudices, worldview and the socio-cultural context bias us in one direction or the other when we emotionally thin-slice… It just might be a good time for me to re-read Gladwell’s Blink too.

The Friday Read: Mixed Matches

A few days late but an interesting read nonetheless. Denise Morris explores inter-racial dating and marriage from a biblical worldview over at Boundless.org. Parts One, Two and Three explore her experiences in growing up as a child from a mixed marriage, the pseudo-biblical objections people may have and offers a useful summation:

Will choosing to date someone outside of your race make your life more difficult? Hopefully not, but it could. If it does, remember that the father of lies still has a grip on humanity. He will until the day Christ returns to put him in his place. Are the potential difficulties of an interracial relationship worth it? Of course they are if it’s the person God has prepared for you. Most importantly, all of us are precious in his sight — red, yellow, black and white — and every shade in between.

Even though in many ways my various reservations are being pared down to the bare essentials, I still suspect that going inter racial is (yet) a bridge too far – the rationale being the significant cultural differences (which are not insurmountable) and the perception that they are often marriages of convenience rather than for love. It’s only 2012 though, 2015 might see me singing from a different song sheet..

The line about red, yellow, black and white reminded me of a song [YouTube] from children’s church back in the day.

The Friday Read #2: The Paradox of Options

Jonah Lehrer  (The Frontal Cortex) reviews a paper by Bahns, Pickett and Crandall on the relationship between social ecology (the make up of a community and its characteristics) and how people initiate and maintain relationships. They surmise that a bigger pool only makes us more picky, and keener to gravitate to people similar to us (the so called Similarity-Attraction effect).

The cliff notes version?

When opportunity abounds, people are free to pursue more narrow selection criteria, but when fewer choices are available, they must find satisfaction using broader criteria.

Perhaps LightherLamp put it more elegantly a few days ago. Full text of the paper here.

Links: 23 Sept 2011

  1. Will this father be prosecuted for defending his family against burglars?
  2. Reclaiming the Gentleman – The SBM approach.
  3. Even nature tears down first, before attempting to rebuild. The plus side to the Australian fires.
  4. A dastardly act, and using social media to hunt the bastards down: Sugarbelly’s blog post, an e-Petition and numerous Twitter mentions.
  5. How About We on the types of women to avoid.
  6. Eugene Cho muses on Troy Davis, the death penalty and what is an appropriate Christian response.
  7. An essay on travelling.
  8. Navigating the “You’re a great guy, but…..” talk.
  9. Looking for the perfect dating age gap? Six is it.
  10. The case for doodling.