Tag Archives: poems

Poetry for healing

Many people turn to poetry for catharsis. While that doesn’t always lead to poems that are meaningful to anyone else, it definitely does work as a cathartic process. Part of this is simply being able to vent. Part of it, however, has everything to do with how you can use language when writing poetry.

The English language doesn’t have a lot of words for describing emotions. To talk about emotions in any detail, we are obliged to say what they are like, or to demonstrate how they play out by using metaphors. If I tell you I am suffering from depression, that will give you a limited idea of what I’m going through. If I tell you that my body is full of lead, and my heart has become a stone, that I am walking through a blasted wasteland where nothing lives or grows and desperately trying to find a way to leave, and afraid there is no way to leave – then you might have some idea.

Poetry gives us permission to put down grammar norms, give up on regular sentence structure, and put words together in ways that work for this specific instance. Poetry structures are very different from normal writing structures, so even if you do decide not to cough up your heart in free verse, it is still different from writing prose. Poetry structures focus on the rhythms and sounds words make, not the logic of how the content is expressed. That in turn allows a person to think different, which can be helpful when you’re struggling to process something.

Afterwards, when you have bled onto the page, there is time to reflect on whether the catharsis poem also functions as a regular poem. Sometimes there’s enough in it that someone else might find it helpful. Often a cathartic poem reads back like a hearty wallow in the deeply personal. To share it, may require editing. One of the most effective ways of taking a catharsis poem and turning it into something shareable, is to make it funny. Going that bit further, and playing misery for laughs can be effective when taking your work to an audience. When we can collectively laugh at pain, it can become collectively cathartic.

Some poems are better used in other ways. Perhaps a ritual burning to help you release those feelings. Physically tearing up paper can be productive as well. Letting them go, and letting what was in them go can be a good thing. Sometimes the answer is to vent and move on. Sometimes, the process of healing with poetry requires us to dig in and go deeper – it’s a very personal choice. However you handle it, bear in mind that a good cathartic healing poem is not necessarily a good poem in any other sense, and that equally, a good poem that people will enjoy is not necessarily going to help you much as a healing process.


Mapping the Contours, a reading

This is me reading Mapping the Contours, a poem from a poetry collection of the same name.

This is a collection I’ve written over a number of years – and not in an especially deliberate way. The poems are the consequence, most usually, of walks I’ve been on. Landscape dominates, but there’s also some politics (in the broader sense) and some Goddess material. Those of you who follow my work will know I’m not much good at belief, so I must add that this is me exploring ideas around Goddess, rather than having had some kind of dramatic perspective shift.

Hard copies of the book are available on etsy – https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/641871660/mapping-the-contours-poetry

PDFs can be sourced by supporting me on Patreon. If you dive in you can be there for a month and access everything I’ve done at the virtual levels. If you stay more than a month as a glass heron, I’ll also post you something. If you sign up and keep staying, I’ll keep making you stuff. I’ve found Patreon really motivating, and I’m at the kind of level financially where a few extra pounds in the month makes a real difference.

Mapping the Contours is the kind of project that has become more feasible for me because of Patreon. If you were thinking about supporting a creator this way, I can promise you, it makes a really big difference.

Ghosting for Beginners – a review

Ghosting for Beginners is a poetry collection by Anna Saunders. I first encountered Anna about a month ago when she read at Piranha Poetry in Stroud. So I put up a hand to review her new anthology.

There’s great delicacy and precision in Anna’s writing. I very much like that about her work. If she talks about a walk, a day, a bird, it doesn’t seem like a generic one conjured up to make a point, but something specific and individual. She writes a lot about encounters between humans and nature, or humans in the context of nature.

There are a lot of ghosts in the collection. The title of the anthology comes from a poem of the same name about the modern oddity that is ghosting – when people disappear out of other people’s social media lives, usually in a dating context. It’s not the bravest way of breaking up with someone. Many of the other ghosts are more traditional hauntings. These, set alongside poems about extinction and climate change meant that for me, the collection had threads of loss and grief all the way through it. I read it as a deeply haunted piece of work – and I think the title of the collection is an invitation to do just that.

There’s also just a whisper of humour running through these poems. A ghost of a smile, if you will. A feeling that this is an author who can laugh at themselves and who has a keen sense of the absurdity in many situations.

If you hop over to the publisher’s website – http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/anna-saunders-gfb/4594255832 – you can read a selection of poems from the collection. What’s here is a good representation of the book as a whole, and if it speaks to you, you can dive right in and buy a copy. Which I can certainly recommend you consider doing.

Polishing poetry

For many people, poetry hits the page in a rush of emotion and/or inspiration. Developing it beyond that point can feel a tad sacrilegious, and I remember it took me quite some time both to learn how to do it, and to be willing to do it. I’ve tried writing the kind of poetry that is tinkered out in a calmer and more intellectual way and I can’t honestly say I like the results. As writing poetry is something I do for myself, I don’t have to be workish about it, I can wait for the lightning bolt to strike.

My usual method (other methods no doubt exist and are just as valid) is to write in the heat of the moment, and then put the piece aside for a day or two. When I come back, I’ll read through and see how I feel about it. I then get in there line by line, and look hard at what I’ve created to see if it has any flaws that need fixing, or if it’s going in a direction and needs developing. I am rather prone to accidentally writing things that are almost sonnets, which may become actual sonnets on the second draft.

I look for word repetitions, and either swap new words in, or decide to take the repetition and make a feature of it. I check the line length and I take out any words that don’t need to be there, and I change any words that disrupt the flow of reading. If I’ve settled on a structure, I rework so that the poem fits the structure. I make sure that the rhythms don’t make it sound clunky and obvious. I look for opportunities to play with alliteration, and rhymes that aren’t at the ends of lines. I try and make sure it makes sense, not only to me, but to someone who has no idea what I was thinking and feeling when I wrote it.

I’ll look for clichés, mixed metaphors, weak similes. I’ll look at the tone and my language choices to make sure they align fairly well. That’s a particularly subjective process, I think. The mood of an individual word and the mood created by a set of words doesn’t always come across as you intend. I’ve found this repeatedly with a poet friend of mine whose heartfelt anger always reads like cool cynicism to me.

I may read it out loud, because this is a really good way of spotting anything that doesn’t have a good ring to it. I may read it to someone else to test it for sense and impact. I’ll look at the layout on the page and consider whether that supports the mood, readability, coherence, and I’ll move things round to try and help that. My final sweep is usually to sort out the punctuation, which I put down as a guide to how I want it read out loud.

Writing a poem is only ever half of a process, and the other half happens when you share it. No matter what you do to try and control the impact of the poem, there will always be ways people can interpret it that you didn’t intend. Even if you avoid metaphors and similes and try for the clearest communication you can, people understand different words in different ways. For me, this is part of the joy of the thing. What I mean, and what someone else hears will never perfectly align, because language is an imperfect form of communication. I’m aiming for the closest alignment I can get, relaxed about the inevitability of people hearing things, or reading things, I did not intend them to find.

Accessible Poetry

I don’t know the figures, but it’s pretty obvious that far more people don’t read poetry by choice, than do read it. People obliged to read it for school can’t be counted in this. By and large, the people writing poetry are people who read poetry. After all, no one does poetry for the fame and glamour, the only realistic motivations involve love or catharsis, or both. Often (but not always) people who write poetry seem to assume that they are writing only for the small number of people who habitually read poetry, and this tends to make poetry less accessible.

I read a collection recently that had a lot of classical references in it. Now, it’s one thing if you’re a Hellenic Pagan writing about Greek Gods for fellow Pagans – this is not about you! Pagans aside, access to ‘classics’ tends to come with a certain kind of education – grammar school, or private. Anyone under forty will probably not have studied Latin at state school. Anyone who went to a secondary modern, or even a regular comprehensive won’t have done much on classical writing. There is a definite class aspect to this, and as most of us are working class, most of us are excluded from any poetry that assumes the reader has had a certain kind of education. I know people whose poetic education was about verse – rhyme and beat, which means everything of the twentieth century ‘classics’ is unfamiliar to them.

Yes, we can self-educate and many of us do. Yes, we can read around, and read widely, and as voraciously as the local library and time will allow. But, if you read alone and for the love of it, you probably won’t find your way to all the literary poets other poets may be inclined to reference. You may well be totally put off long before that happens.

Now, if your poetry includes waves to ancient Rome, or T.S. Eliot, but makes perfect sense to someone who doesn’t know about those things, you’re golden. Those who know can enjoy it, those who don’t know can enjoy it and you may even help someone find their way into other things they hadn’t read before. However, if the sense of the poem depends on knowing who Eurydice was, or being able to recognise what God said to Noah without the context, or something of that ilk, it becomes a locked box for which many readers will never have the keys, and that’s just annoying.

When a poem assumes knowledge the reader does not have, the poet is saying ‘this is not for you.’ I don’t think poetry should be a largely inaccessible thing written by and for a particular kind of educated elite. I think poetry should be for everyone.

What is poetry?

Quite some time ago, I was asked for an explanation as to what poetry is, from a man who had been taught at school that poetry means rhythm and rhyme. Being a big fan of free verse, I knew that couldn’t be it, but it’s a hard question to answer. I know when I’ve encountered it (and I feel much the same way about Druidry!) but that’s not a useful thing to offer a person. A long car journey with writer, publisher and creative writing teacher Anthony Nanson gave me chance to kick the question about and take advantage of his much cleverer mind.

Anthony suggested that rhyme and meter give you verse, but not necessarily poetry. It’s possible to say bland, empty, dull and tedious things with verse, after all.

I can see a little dog

Picking up a mouldy log

Running with it to a bog

Took its photo for my blog…

Poetry is more than this. If something is poetic, it is more than the sum of its parts. Something in the writing will create possibilities, moods, impressions that do more than the individual words were capable of.

“anyone lived in a pretty how town” – a bit of ee cummings, which I think makes the point. Everyday words, but not an everyday effect.There’s space in poetry where the reader/audience can bring something for themselves – in fact often must make this engagement for the writing to make full sense to them. The need to find your own meaning, to make something out of the juxtapositions and impressions can be very much part of the poetic experience.At a poetry book launch of Jay Ramsay’s several years ago, Jay said that poetry calls upon different parts of the brain to prose. It requires us to think differently to step out of our normal relationship with the world. It’s hard to pin this down as an experience – but that is part of what makes it itself. We are touched and changed in ways that are uniquely personal to each of us. Something gets in. Something is not the same.Granted, a beautiful piece of prose can have that effect to, but if it does, we tend to call the writing ‘poetic’ anyway.The conclusion I’ve come to, is that poetry is a little bit of enchantment.

A quest for poems

I was very young when I started writing poetry. I was encouraged at school and at home, and as it did not require so many words or so much plot as a story, there were obvious appeals. I learned something of structures. In my teens, looser verses became a way of venting and managing my emotions. Poetry as therapy isn’t unusual, but it’s often best if that material never falls on anyone else. I went to poetry classes at uni, both studying poetry as a writing form and getting opportunities to have a go. There were more structures to learn.

While I’ve worked hard with other writing forms, I confess that poetry has mostly been a hobby. I’ve used it as a place to pour out emotion, and to try and make sense of things. I’ve used it on occasion to court people (not always very effectively). It occurs to me that I haven’t written poetry for other people in the way I write short stories, essays, novels and non-fiction books.
A whole other voice comes into play in the poetry I like reading. It bypasses the banal in search of an essence. It speaks from soul to soul, and is more innately spiritual than story telling. Evocative, sometimes moving towards incantation, it breaths life as well as ideas.

I’ve started to think of poetry in terms of a desire to communicate with other people. Not just in a ‘would like to get in your pants’ sense. That in turn raises questions about what it might be worth saying. What can I not capture effectively in a blog post? What wouldn’t be better told as a short story? Sometimes the answer lies in the brevity. There’s a lot more intensity in a small poem than in pages of text; a sense of distillation and focus. If I really want to make a point, then sometimes the limitations of a poem are vastly useful in terms of getting right into the topic. There are issues of utility, too. I can take a poem or a short story to a ritual, but not an essay or a novel.

I have dabbled in putting poetry out in public, there are some print collections over at Lulu (free downloads in the book section of this site). They were written as and when they occurred to me, with no particular intent. I’ve depended on emotional energy and inspiration as and when it turns up. I’m experimenting at the moment with setting out to write poetry, and I do have overall intentions to guide what I’m doing. So far it seems to be going along passably well. I’m learning how not to feel too precious about first drafts. In any other form, the first draft is just a jumping off point, but I’ve tended to either hatch a poem at first try, or give up on it and move on. Learning how to go back and work at it is interesting. I’m learning to take notes, jotting down odd lines, phrases and ideas when they occur to me, and seeing if I can connect them up in a meaningful way at some later point. It’s a bit like sketching.

What any of this achieves remains to be seen, but I like to feel that I’m stretching myself and trying new ways of writing. Whatever else comes of the poetry, I know that focusing down on my use of words will improve me as a writer, and exploring other forms of expression helps keep me fresh, and stops me getting into ruts and habits.

I’m also taking it as a prompt to read more poetry, because I feel very strongly that if you don’t read in a subject or form, your scope for writing it well is much reduced.

New Awe Writing Initiative

This is a shoutout for a project that really caught my imagination. There are very few houses out there publishing poetry and very few decent opportunities for new poets to share their words in meaningful ways. I am also very happy to be sharing a call for work that wants new, surprising things.

NAWI is a project designed to provide a platform for original new voices, writing in English anywhere in the world. We are keen to promote writing that dazzles and inspires – writing that moves and motivates, be it poetry, prose fiction, life-writing or essay … virtually any written form you can think of – as long as it makes us go ‘Wow!’ We want work which makes the reader look at the familiar in an unfamiliar way; that makes us appreciate the world we live in, who we are, and what we can be. The poems can be a sequence; and the prose certainly needs to be complete (not a fragment). Both needs to unpublished and original. This will be collected into an (which could become an annual initiative if it works). NAWI opens 21 December 2012 and closes June 21 2013. The anthology will be published late October 2013, to celebrate (a special showcase will be arranged). Contributors will be invited to perform at a launch celebration in Stroud, England (and possibly other launch events). Authors who really impress us might be asked to develop a proposal for a single- author project at a later date. Entry to the anthology will not guarantee publication. The judges’ (3 published authors/creative writing teachers, TBA) decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. We are hoping to present a cross-section of voices, styles and genres. The entry has to be in UK English, either 3 poems (up to 100 lines); or between 1000-3000 words, unpublished, and sent with title, author, address and a 50 word biography to: NAWI, 78 Daisybank, Bisley Rd, Stroud, Glos, GL5 1HG, along with a £10 reading fee (either a cheque made payable to ‘Awen Publications’ or Paypal Transaction ID); and an SAE if you want the work returned. Shortlisted winners will be notified by 1 August 2013. Authors will retain copyright of their work, but will allow their work to be used to promote the anthology. Contributors will receive a complimentary copy, and can purchase further copies at 50%. Their profile will be added to the Awen site. Profits will go towards future NAWI anthologies. Editorial preference will be given to previously unpublished writers (of merit); to daring, new voices, rather than well-established ones.

Follow link here http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/new_awe.html

(If you have a good thing that needs more visibility, feel free to contact me, I’m always happy to give blog space to good stuff, and if relevant will also forward it to egroups or contacts. I want there to be more good stuff, I am dedicating to stepping up in any way I can, to help raise awareness, build audiences for other people, build a market for work with soul and integrity.)

Free Druid Book

If you have a look at https://druidlife.wordpress.com/books/ – the page I’ve just added, you’ll find not only a pointer towards the Druidry and Meditation book, but also a poetry collection, which you can download for free. One of the reasons I am giving it away, is that it’s unspeakably hard to get poetry published, much less to find a paying market. This saddens me a considerable amount, but I feel the sharing is more important to me than the being paid for it.

Lost Bards and Dreamers has a lot of history around it. It was published for a while by Alpheratz Press, which did not survive as a house, sadly. Another long story there, but it isn’t mine to tell. Most of the poems were written for someone, or for a specific occasion. There were people I was teaching about Druidry, and sharing poems seemed to be a good way of doing that. There were also lines written for my child. Some of the poems from my ogham inspired collection landed here too.

While there’s some experimenting with form and structure, much of it is free verse, because I enjoy that more.

The cover was created for me by Tom Brown, my other and better half. It coincides with the transition from being working partners, to being romantically involved. The purple poppy design came first, and had been intended as a tattoo (still not had that done, maybe one day!). It’s the same image that I use on this blog, and the blog header comes from this book cover too.

The Lost Bards of the title, referred to Bards of the Lost Forest, the bardic gorsedd I was heavily involved with for some years. My fellow bards there were a huge inspiration to me, and I wanted to reflect that in my work.

I’m on the credits for this one as Brynneth Nimue – another sign of transition, moving away from the associations of the old surname, but not yet at the point of knowing I would take Tom’s name. We weren’t even in the same country even.

I’ve always written poetry. As a child I churned out that kind of fluffy, lightweight, observational stuff you might expect. I moved into the teenage angst years, with poetry as therapy. Gradually I became interested in trying to write something other people might want to read. I went through exactly the same process with prose, only quicker. There is only so much time you can spend writing fiction that is based on the self, before it gets painfully dull. Poetry is the same. It has to do more than bleed and vent. It has to take the bleeding, howling and flailing, the mess, and tease it out into something…. More.

If people like this one, I may collect up material I have on my hard drive and put together a second book, again with a view to giving it away.