Poetry is the most undervalued, underfunded, and underperformed art form in our contemporary age. Yes, poetry sales have soared in recent times, but poets still struggle to make a living from their work. As a poet myself, and as somebody who knows – from experience – the ability of poetry to help me to grapple with my everyday struggles, this reality feels criminally unfair.
The link between poetry and mental health is extreme, and yet the effort to find such a link, is mostly missed. Poetry played an important role in my own recovery. Indeed, it still does. I believe this to be guided by the unique ability of poetry to concisely express emotions without limit. There are no rule books in poetry, or to be more precise, each and every rule book is being torn up and replaced every day.
And yet, poetry provides an insufficient source of income for even the greats of the modern day. Having established herself as a respected figure of the modern poetic scene, Andrea Holland, Creative Writing lecturer at UEA, told students at an event this month she still grapples with the question affecting most of her poetic peers: “will my poem help to put food on the table for my family?”
Potentially, but probably not. Unjustifiably, I think. After all, how could a poet – someone who’s creativity has such wide spreading and transformative effects on reader’s lives – be so economically downtrodden? This feels wrong, not least for the poet. I am strongly of the view that poems can form an important mechanism for mental health recovery, certainly for myself.
I enjoy poetry, not so much for understanding, but to better appreciate the beauty of emotions. I write poems to feel more in tune with reality, the reality being constantly evolving, creating new challenges as well as new opportunities.
My personal inclination for reading and writing poetry comes from the inherent nuances of the poetic form itself. In poems, complex emotions can be properly described and voiced in the space of a few lines. Michaela Spencer was raped at a House Party in 2014, and later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She writes poems to cope with the trauma. “Each time I write, I write something so true about myself that I heal each time,” she told the BBC.
Poetry offers the most powerful source of clarity in the midst of a vast, complex and ever-changing global picture. When we seek a better understanding of our lives, we read and write poems. When we feel lost or alone, we turn to poetry for reassurance, a way of communicating the complexities of anguish, to give a message of hope within the chaotic reality of everyday experience.
Poetry also builds comradery. Aristotle claimed poems are, “finer than history, for poetry expresses the universal”. We use poetry, not only to heal ourselves, but to heal and unite people. Poems help us to deal with our greatest struggles and challenges, rectifying and rejuvenating both our bodies and minds.
The power of poetry lies within its ability to defend personal worth in ways that you may never have dreamt possible. As Ernest Hemingway urged readers: ‘write hard and clear about what hurts’.
Feeling low? Pessimistic about your future? Poetry to the rescue.