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Guest Blog: Poetry and Human Connection

Written by The Reader, 9th May 2017

This Mental Health Awareness Week we're delighted to have a guest blog from Jamie Jones:

Jamie is a freelance writer now living in Swindon. Originally from Liverpool, she delivered writing workshops in the community. 

It upsets me when I hear the phrase ‘poetry is not for me’. I can’t get my head around it – I’ve always loved poetry and I believe it’s for everyone – so, naturally, sometimes I worry that poetry is not out there, in the world enough. I was lost in this anxiety not so long ago when something ‘poetic’ happened.

Credit: Chris Flack, Getintothis

I went to see my friend, singer songwriter, Marvin Powell, performing. I hadn’t seen him since I moved down south so, when I heard he was on tour down here with another Liverpool band, She Drew The Gun, I jumped at the opportunity to go see them.

All art has an amazing ability to revive something in us. I felt all kinds of revived by the end of the evening. I know Marvin’s music, his lyrics do contain a lot of poetry, and I loved the band’s style of mixing spoken word seamlessly into the music. It got me thinking about poetry’s ability to renew and reinvent itself.

Maybe I get too caught up in the traditional at times. Certainly, this night I was feeling old before my time, I can’t remember the last time I was out to see a new band, or went out of my way to find out who the new poets are, or visited a gallery to see a new exhibition. Funny, how enjoyment can seem like hard work at times.

Since I heard it, I’ve had lines from the band’s song Sing stuck in my head – ‘there’s no kind of living if your little soul don’t sing… you’ve got to learn how to listen to the poetry it brings’ – Yes! Poetry is a part of us, a very important part of the human spirit. A spirit continually renewing itself in the people, times, and places in which it finds itself – as Wordsworth said in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads, ‘the feeling therein developed gives importance to the action and situation, and not the action and situation to the feeling.’

The feeling might be good or it might be difficult, either way, poetry offers us a place to connect with feeling –this is the sort of human connection we often need more of for our own well-being.

My concern for poetry then is not that it is not out there in the world, it’s more that I worry the people who need it most have the opportunity to hear it, to experience it, and that the older poetry is still revived. This is why I believe initiatives like The Poetry Archive and the work done at The Reader are so important. The traditional is still needed, it was once new, and its spirit transcends the people, places, and times, in which it was first formed. The feeling is the reviving part. The emotional charge of a poem can act like a defibrillator shocking something back to life. In a less drastic sense the emotional energy can be sustaining to some part of ourselves, wholesome, like good food.

I’m no stranger to the experience of ill mental health. A fair few doctors and other health care professionals have asked me the question, ‘What helps you?’ It amuses, and annoys me, how taken aback, some of them are, when I say my go to thing is poetry.

Poetry is part of my daily routine for maintaining my health; I read a poem after breakfast and go for a run in the evening.

Certain poems, or certain parts of poems, are safely with me at all times, when I need that extra bit of support, I can recite the lines, it’s a bit like carrying an inhaler round - at times I just need something to help me catch a breath. Often, it’s George Herbert’s The Temper I that comes to mind:

Yet take thy way; for sure thy way is best:

Stretch or contract me thy poor debtor:

This is but tuning of my breast,

To make the music better.

The first line reminds me to ask for help. The rest reminds me that good can come of difficulty. What I learn can be passed on to others. Any ‘tuning’ that happens within me can be a part of something bigger – ‘the music’ – the good in life, of our shared experience.

I have a lot of good memories of being with friends like Marvin, when we were teenagers, struggling to navigate life, sharing music and poetry and art, and discussing how these things made us feel and what they helped us think about. My friends and poetry help me to connect to the world, feel a part of something, and enhance my well-being.

If you're interested in reading more poetry or finding out more about how reading poetry can help with poor mental health, why not come along to one of our Shared Reading groups - find your nearest group here.

Or check out our A Little, Aloud series, designed to be read aloud alone, or with loved ones. We also have a collection of poetry anthologies available on our website if you'd like some inspiration on where to start with poetry.

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