World Poetry Day Blog: How reading, writing or performing can be good for your mental health
Digital team's blog
Carl is a mental health campaigner who loves poetry. Here he blogs about how reading, writing or even performing can help your wellbeing, and gives his tips on how to get started...
I know what you’re thinking: “Here we go. It's World Poetry Day and this guy is about to tell us that if we write about our feelings, our mental health will magically improve.”
Well, sort of. But bear with me...
We all know that mental health experts don’t suggest gardening for wellbeing because they think flowers contain anti-depressants. It's because the process of being outside, feeling the earth and connecting with your environment can be therapeutic in itself.
And that’s the same with poetry. I’m not saying you have to divulge every feeling you have, but by playing with a pen, some paper and your thoughts or diving into the works of a pro, you may be surprised how much you enjoy it.
1) Forget what you know
Before you begin, however, I implore you to forget what you know.
Forget the rigid way you were introduced to Shakespeare. Forget how your teacher made you make everything rhyme. Forget the dusty books and poets in their berets.
Poetry ain’t scary. Poetry ain’t boring. It comes in many forms, and so do the poets.
They’re now Mercury Prize nominated or bearded hip hop artists. They’re performing in music venues like the Roundhouse in Camden or over on Facebook writing about love in Venn diagrams.
I was scared of writing poetry for a long time because I thought I had to be serious and write about my pain and my anguish and how I love spring time and the laughter of a new born baby. While that style of writing is beautiful, it just isn’t me.
But the more I read and watched and explored, I realised I could express myself through comedy. I could describe my depression as three badgers living in my hair. I could take out my anger on the poor little darlings I created by having them sneeze so hard their skin fell. I could get on stage and talk about a man getting trapped in a toilet cubicle and make an audience laugh, without having to tell them that’s in fact what several periods of my life have felt like.
I learnt a new side of poetry and a new side of myself, which was quite possibly the most liberating thing ever.
2) Let go
While I adore comedy poetry, I truly admire people who pull no punches and bare their soul more bluntly.
We all manage our mental health differently. Some people feel more comfortable being open than others, some embrace the darker days and others look for upbeat things to massage their mood. Personally I enjoy dipping in to the works of Sylvia Plath when I’m having a bad day, or heading to YouTube to hear passionate individuals discuss their OCD or their eating disorder.
An hour in their company helps me scribble openly and create more close-to-the-bone poems, just for me. The world doesn’t have to read everything you write, sometimes just contextualising things in something that will never see the light of day can be good for your soul - the same way a thought diary can.
3) Visit new worlds
Since reading, writing and performing poetry, I’ve been taken to some wonderful worlds. Be that the charming yet sinister mind of Tim Key, the darker realm of Sam Pink or the feminist work of Megan Beech.
And even the physical world. As a London resident, I’m in the middle of a wonderful spoken word scene. Events like Spoken Word London, Poetry Unplugged and the Boomerang Club take place in wonderful venues filled with performers exploring ideas and thoughts in a whole host of ways. There are similar events around the country.
If talking to a crowd is not your thing, if you're feeling up to it, I’d whole-heartedly recommend popping along to an event near you to simply watch. You may be pleasantly surprised what you connect with.
And if all else fails...
Still not convinced poetry can help your mental health? Well, why not just take it up for the financial rewards...
If you're a member of Rethink Mental Illness, don't forget you can submit your poetry for publication in our magazine and members' website. Just email your work to firstname.lastname@example.org. Not yet a member? Just click here.
Photo credit: LaurenAimee Photography